LIGONIER – Ligonier Valley had to withstand Marion Center’s best punch early on in its homecoming clash at Weller Field. The visiting Stingers provided two goal-line stops to stay within striking distance, but the Rams found another gear in the second quarter with 19 points.
Led by Kyrie Miller’s record-breaking scoring run and Sam Sheeder’s 85-yard interception return for a touchdown, the Rams enjoyed homecoming with a 46-0 triumph to extend their Heritage Conference winning streak to 35 games and also clinch the league title for the fourth straight season.
“It feels awesome, especially against a good football team,” said Miller, whose third score in the second quarter surpassed Collin Smith’s career rushing touchdown record of 47. “They’re 5-1. They had high aspirations of beating us.
“We came out a little bit flat. We weren’t playing our game. But then we sat down and got it all worked out and things started falling in place like it usually does.”
Ligonier Valley (7-0) was able to overcome its early struggles to win going away. Homer-Center’s 27-26 loss to Saltsburg allowed the Rams to douse coach Roger Beitel after the game.
“Everyone’s got two losses, we hold the tiebreakers against everybody,” Beitel said. “That’s goal No. 1. Now we want to get back to the next Appalachian Bowl and get that fourth one as well. I’m proud of them.”
Marion Center (5-2) stood firm to force Ligonier Valley to turn it over on downs on the first drive. But Sheeder’s leaping interception returned the momentum back to the Rams. Three plays later, Miller found paydirt from 4 yards out. A blocked extra point kept the score at 6-0.
After another goal-line stand by Marion Center, Ligonier Valley found its footing on the following series. Miller made the safety miss on his way to outrunning the defense on a 45-yard touchdown run. Ligonier Valley led 12-0 after the first.
Miller’s 27-yard score in the second broke Smith’s mark. Miller, who finished with 117 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries to surpass 1,000 yards for the season, was quick to compliment his star-studded offensive line, which includes Division I commits Christian Jablonski (Lehigh), Mike Petrof (Navy) and Wylie Spiker (St. Francis).
“It feels awesome, honestly,” Miller said. “At the same point, although it’s my title technically, my line deserves most of the credit, I think. They’re the ones opening up the holes for me. Half the time, I barely get touched until 15 yards down the field. Honestly, the credit goes to them.”
John Beard caught a 13-yard score over the middle from Sheeder to lead 24-0. Sheeder then stepped in front of a Marion Center pass and sprinted down the home sideline for an 85-yard score to go up 31-0 at halftime.
Marion Center’s play was marred by early mistakes, which included dropped interceptions and catches that could have gone for large chunks.
“We had opportunities to be with them. We were with them,” Marion Center coach Adam Rising said. “We had a couple picks that we could have taken advantage of. We had a couple touchdown balls that were either dropped or missed. You can’t do that against a good team like Ligonier Valley.”
Ethan Boring caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Sheeder in the third. Michael Marinchak hauled in a 13-yard scoring pass from Haden Sierocky in the fourth to set the final.
Despite expecting Marion Center to run the ball, the Ligonier Valley defense made the necessary adjustments to post its second straight shutout by picking off four passes, which led to 18 points.
“Defensively, those kids stepped up tonight,” Beitel said. “We’re disappointed we didn’t get to see the running game that we anticipated. We had to make some adjustments because that’s not what we practiced all week for. We practiced a pretty heavy bear front all week for the run game. We never saw it.”