With interest growing, Ambridge hopes to make noise in Parkway Conference
Friday, August 11, 2023 | 11:08 PM
Sherm McBride can see signs of progress with the Ambridge football program, but he’s far from content.
The Bridgers finished the 2022 season 2-8, winning one game in Class 4A’s uber-competitive Parkway Conference.
“We had a few guys coming back, but had a lot of freshman and sophomores,” said Sherman, now in his third year leading Ambridge. “That said, I was a little disappointed in our play last year. But things happen, and we’re looking forward to this year.
“Our kids are grown up now, and there’s no more excuses. They’re juniors and seniors now and should be ready to play four quarters of football.”
Ambridge picked up its lone conference win against New Castle and won a nonconference game at Freedom. But the Bridgers were competitive in far more, including losses to Montour, Neshannock, Blackhawk and Chartiers Valley – with two of those coming by less than a touchdown.
“If you look at the scores, we were in most of the games,” McBride says. “The Aliquippa game (a 55-20 loss), we were just a touchdown down at halftime. We were young and were trying to find a way to win and close games. Hopefully, with them being juniors now, we’ll win more games. I feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”
What’s helped Ambridge — and McBride — has been a rejuvenation within the halls of the school. Kids are more interested in joining a program that appears to have its worst days behind it.
“My first year, we had 35 (players), last year we had 37, and this year we have 49,” said McBride. “I think they see the progress that we’re making, and that we’re competing now.
“An old Ambridge alum told me that from 2015 until I got there, everyone in the stands left at halftime, and now they’re staying the whole game.”
In front of those fans, there are some things that need to be figured out, even though Ambridge does return nine starters on each side of the ball after starting eight freshmen last season.
Most importantly, the quarterback position needs to be filled. Deavon Ivory, who accounted for 707 passing yards, as well as 10 total touchdowns, was lost to graduation. Junior AJ Gerace will get the first shot at taking over under center.
“He didn’t have a lot of chances to play last year because a lot of our games were close,” said McBride, who is optimistic about what Gerace could bring to the offense.
In the backfield, Carlito Chandler and Grant Uvodich will see the bulk of the carries, and last season’s leading rusher and receiver, Adam Fernandez, will be used all over the field again.
McBride is most excited about the trenches, as Ambridge brings back the entire offensive line. Aiden Sheffield is the lone senior, and Dante Prentice is a two-year starter as well.
“They’re the front, they’re the big boys, and they’re the two we’re going to look to to open up things in the run game,” added McBride.
Defensively, junior linebacker Blaize Kolar will lead the group. Jayce McCracken is back after recording four sacks last year, and Caleb Namath joins him on the defensive front. Fernandez, Uvodich, Nathan Sheffield will work in the secondary.
On the sidelines, McBride has tapped into his Aliquippa roots for help within the coaching ranks. Former Quips head coach Mike Zmijanac, as well as former NFL player Tommie Campbell, are both on staff.
“The players aren’t just hearing it from me,” said McBride. “They’re hearing it from a guy that’s played in the NFL and a guy that’s won high school championships and whose name speaks for itself around here.”
With their help, McBride has seen improvement and more participation. But reality isn’t exactly friendly to Ambridge. They’re in the WPIAL’s most decorated and unforgiving conference, with the likes of perennial state title contenders in Aliquippa and Central Valley among those on the schedule.
“It’s no secret about the conference,” said McBride. “You always have a lot of work to do.
“Our goal is to get into the top four. If we get into the top four, that means that we’re in the playoffs, and anything can happen after that. We’re just trying to give ourselves a chance.”
Coach: Sherm McBride
2022 record: 2-8, 1-6 in Class 4A Parkway Conference
All-time record: 439-501-40
Date, Opponent, Time
9.1 Freedom, 7
9.8 at Neshannock, 7
9.15 Blackhawk*, 7
9.22 at Montour*, 7
9.29 Aliquippa, 7
10.6 at West Allegheny*, 7
10.13 at Central Valley*, 7
10.20 New Castle*, 7
10.27 at Chartiers Valley*, 7
Passing: Deavon Ivory*
51-96, 707 yards, 7 TDs
Rushing: Adam Fernandez
13-180 yards, 3 TDs
10-158 yards, TD
• McBride was a standout player at Aliquippa and went on to play at Ohio University.
• Zmijanac went 240-59 over 24 years as a head coach, winning six WPIAL titles with the Quips.
• Ambridge snapped a 28-game losing streak in 2021, McBride’s first with the program.
• The Bridgers had 24 juniors on the team in 2022, and only two seniors who saw playing time were lost to graduation.
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