When Northern Cambria and Laurel Valley meet in the first round of the District 6 Class A playoffs on Saturday night, it will be under entirely different circumstances than when the teams played on Oct. 4.

Laurel Valley went into that game with a 4-1 record and an offense that was averaging 21.8 points per game. Northern Cambria was 2-3 and was allowing 27.4 points per game.

But the Colts went into New Florence and beat Laurel Valley 12-8, the first of four consecutive victories for Paul Taranto’s team. Northern Cambria has allowed just 12.8 points per game in that span, with most of the points coming against the second-team defense.

The opposite has been true for coach Jerry Page’s squad.

The Rams went 2-2 in the final four games, but they have scored just 36 points in that span.

“It’s a combination of things,” Page said of what has been different in the second half of the season. “We haven’t done that much offensively.”

Marcus Welshons leads Laurel Valley with 527 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.

Quarterback Patrick Hall is 25 of 56 passing for 320 yards.

He has thrown three touchdown passes and three interceptions. Justin Tantlinger is the top receiving threat with 12 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

Taranto said that his defense actually started playing better in the second half in a Week 5 loss to Purchase Line. Since then, things have turned around quickly for Taranto, who is in his first year as coach.

“It’s been a whole team concept, a whole mentality change,” he said.

Andrew Paronish has been a leader on both sides of the ball for the Colts. The senior, who has split time between linebacker and safety, was averaging nearly 12 tackles per game before last week’s 47-28 victory over Ligonier Valley.

He has run for 1,145 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

Combine that with fullback Isaac Lieb, who has rushed for 731 yards and seven touchdowns.

Quarterback Anthony Penska (797 passing yards, eight touchdowns) and wide receiver Ryan Novella (22 catches for 538 yards) give the Colts a potent passing combination and a balanced offense.

“They’ve got some offensive weapons,” Page said. “They have the total package.”

Page is hoping that his defense, which held six opponents to two touchdowns or less, can play like it did the first time against the Colts. But the Rams struggled in last week’s 42-7 loss to Blairsville.

“We’re hoping, as we do historically, that we’ll be able to bounce back from a loss,” Page said. “We know that Blairsville’s a nice football team, but we didn’t play our best game, either.”

Jonathon Hart leads the team with 59 tackles and Hall has four interceptions, tied for second in The Tribune-Democrat’s coverage area.

Neither coach expects to see many changes from the first time the teams played.

“It’s that time of the year where you don’t add too many wrinkles,” Page said. “You just want to refine things and do the fundamental things. We’ve stressed that this week.”

But Taranto also isn’t worried about having played Laurel Valley already.

“Both teams have the same concerns. They’ve seen us, we’ve seen them,” he said. “We’re just going to play our game.”

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