West: Saturday Night Live: Aliquippa vs. Ambridge
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It will be the only show in town Saturday night.
While most WPIAL teams kick off the high school football season tomorrow, Aliquippa and Ambridge Area will renew their longtime rivalry the following evening.
"This is a great game for the community and for the players," Ambridge coach Neil Tkatch said. "This is the game, that when the schedule came out, helped the kids focus during the offseason.
"We know it's a big game. They know it's a big game."
After a two-year hiatus, one of Beaver County's most historic football rivalries will be rejuvenated when Aliquippa heads across the Ohio River to play Ambridge at 8 p.m. at Moe Rubenstein Stadium.
"There are a lot of people around the community who believe you'll have a good season as long as you win this game," Tkatch said. "Those same people believe this is the only game that counts."
This will be the 88th meeting between the two teams with Aliquippa leading the all-time series, 48-34-5. The rivalry, however, was not played the previous two seasons because of scheduling conflicts.
The Quips and Bridgers last played in 2009 when Aliquippa earned a 31-20 victory.
"It was ridiculous that we didn't play those two years," veteran Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac said. "It was close to criminal not to schedule that game, but neither school had anything to do with that decision.
"This is a natural rivalry for close to 90 years, so we're all happy to have it being played again. The [Ambridge-Aliquippa] bridge is closed [which creates traffic problems on a weekday], so we're having the game on Saturday and expect it to be a nice event.
"This is probably one of the greatest football rivalries in the country."
Ranked as the No. 1 team in Class AA by the Post-Gazette, Aliquippa enters the season following a record 14th WPIAL championship and 14-1 record last year. Running backs Dravon Henry, Terry Swanson and Devon Walker highlight the Quips' backfield and are each likely to play a big role this season.
"Certain things don't change at Aliquippa," Tkatch said. "They have a great defense, go after the ball and run the ball. They like going for that home run play, too, and will pass the ball here and there.
"Everyone knows they have players. They have great athletes at all positions. They're strong offensively and defensively they can keep you off the scoreboard. They can beat you on special teams, too.
"They have players who can just make plays at any time."
Ambridge, which competes in the Class AAA Parkway Conference, went 1-8 last year and enters the game following scrimmages against New Brighton and Beaver Falls. The Bridgers will rely on senior quarterback Nick Santiago and junior running back Kody Nichi to guide their offense.
"Both teams are trying to get their season started and that's it," Zmijanac said. "This game has nothing to do with playoffs and championships. It has to do with bragging rights."
Tkatch, however, believes facing Aliquippa will be the perfect tune-up game before his Bridgers jump into Parkway Conference action the following week.
"When it comes to Week One, turnovers are a big concern," Tkatch said. "We have to prevent them and also try to take advantage of them. We have to force them to keep taking snaps and need to keep their offense on the field and not give up the big play.
"We can't give up the big play, not early and not give up the big play at all."
Still, Zmijanac is just happy to see both teams facing one another again.
"It's an exhibition game," Zmijanac said. "It's not like it was back in the old days when we played for blood or a conference championship.
"It's not like it was 50 years ago where you'd go out and try to beat the heck out of each other. Then if you lost you'd try to fight the other team after the game on the bridge.
"This is a good thing. All the kids know each other. This is a good rivalry where all the coaches and parents grew up together."