LIGONIER – The Ligonier Valley football team rolled through the Heritage Conference during the 2019 regular season with an unblemished 9-0 record. That trend continued on Friday night in the first round of the District 6 Class AA playoffs, as the Rams defeated West Shamokin 49-7.
It was a dominant defensive effort by Ligonier Valley that set the tone throughout the game. West Shamokin was unable to convert a single first down throughout the contest as Ligonier Valley’s size and athleticism bothered the Wolves for all four quarters.
Ligonier Valley star tailback Kyrie Miller was forced to sit out this game with an injury. The defense of the Rams rose to the occasion right away in his absence. The Rams’ defense scored the first points of the game as senior Christian Jablonski recovered a fumble in the end zone to give the home team an early 6-0 lead.
“We said ‘OK we’re going to come into the game and we’re going to have the backup tailback in and offensive line do your job and defense do your job’ and they did that tonight and they set the tone early with a defensive touchdown,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said as his team improved to 11-0.
“We just played really good fundamental defense and again we’re getting to that point in the season where you get an offensive line like we have a defense like we have and that will take you a long way especially when it gets cold. It hurts a little bit when you get blocked into the dirt.”
The opportunistic Ligonier Valley defense generated a second turnover when John Beard intercepted a Bo Swartz pass. Five plays later Sam Sheeder darted up the middle for a 3-yard score, and he added the two-point conversion himself to make it 14-0.
If there was any blemish on the Rams’ first-round victory, it may have been the three first-half turnovers. West Shamokin’s Jaiden Haswell picked off a Sheeder pass early in the second quarter and raced to the end zone for a 92-yard score to make it 21-7.
“We had three turnovers, and that’s not like us,” Beitel said. “I think we only had six total all season coming in, and that’s half of them right there.”
Unfortunately for West Shamokin, that interception only seemed to spark Ligonier Valley more than anything. The Rams reeled off four touchdowns in the second quarter, including a pair of touchdown runs from sophomore tailback Nick Beitel, who started in place of Miller. He finished with 107 yards rushing.
Sheeder connected on first-half touchdown passes to Matthew Marinchak and Beard. He was 14-of-20 passing for 158 yards on the night, and also added 78 yards on the ground.
The second half was played with a running clock, as Ligonier Valley was able to empty the bench and get some younger players some extended playing time.
“The backup kids came in and they did a great job,” Beitel explained. “Hats off to the young kids as well and you guys see we coach them just as hard as we coach those older guys because the standard is not going to change around here, whatever your position is going to be, we have the same expectations for you. So those kids rose to it and that’s good to see.”
With the win, Ligonier Valley advances to the District 6-AA semifinals for the fifth consecutive year. The Rams will play the winner of Saturday’s contest between Bellwood-Antis and Cambria Heights