HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Ligonier Valley taking no chances with ailing Bloom
Just when it seemed inevitable that Ligonier Valley’s Alec Bloom would shatter a pair of area records, the tight end/wide receiver went down with a season-ending knee injury in the Rams’ Week 8 loss to Homer-Center.
Heading into Week 9, Bloom, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound senior who has verbally committed to UConn, had 45 catches and 830 yards. He stood just 13 receptions and 125 yards shy of breaking area records for receptions and receiving yards, which Blairsville’s Andy Ostach set in 2005 with 58 and 955, respectively.
“Alec suffered an injury in the Homer-Center game that turned out to be something that none of us believe is worth risking a college career over,” 10th-year Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “This is just a game and he’s going to go off and he’s going to get a quarter-of-a-million dollars worth of education, so none of us were willing to risk it. It was really a no-brainer.
“He’ll be fine. It’s nothing substantial. It’s just not worth the risk.”
Ligonier Valley, the No. 6 team in the District 6 Class AA rankings, might have already shored up a playoff spot but will look to definitively punch its ticket to the postseason with a win over Bald Eagle Area on Friday.
A win over the Bald Eagles also would mark the 400th win in Ligonier Valley history. The Rams notched their 399th win in a Week 6 victory over Saltsburg but have since dropped three straight.
In Beitel’s time as head coach, the Rams have suffered a three-game losing skid just once, in 2004, the year he took over. The streak began with a last-second loss to Penns Manor, which drove 91 yards in the final 33 seconds to pull out the win.
“Everyone knows what happened in that Penns Manor game, but from that point on, every bad break that exists has happened to us,” Beitel said. “We were No. 2 in the district rankings, and now we’re sixth, so we probably don’t have to win this week to get in. But if we lose, we’ll go into the playoffs on a four-game losing skid, and if that happens, we might have to play Richland in the first round. With all that said, I definitely think this is a must-win situation.”
The Rams also might play Bald Eagle without freshman running back Collin Smith. Smith, who has piled up a team-high 457 rushing yards on 70 carries, suffered several minor injuries in last week’s loss to Northern Cambria.
“No one believes me, but we just don’t have anyone left,” Beitel said. “There is a silver lining, though. At least we’re getting a big group of underclassmen a lot of valuable playing time. Those guys will definitely learn and grow from this.”
ONE-TWO PUNCH: Homer-Center’s Ean Lee and Mike Newhouse have rushed to the threshold of something that has been accomplished only five times since the Gazette began keeping statistics 38 years ago, in 1975.
Lee, a junior, has rushed for 934 yards, and Newhouse, a senior, has rushed for 932 for an unbeaten Heritage Conference championship team. Both likely will surpass 1,000 yards on the season, a feat rarely accomplished by two players on the same team.
Two tandems accomplished the feat in 2011. Penns Manor’s Danny Ferens (2,132 yards) and Joey Vodopivec (1,066) did it, and so did Ligonier Valley’s Ryan Torrance (1,196) and Russell Markosky (1,111).
Prior to that, Laurel Valley’s Eric Baird (1,581) and Scott Henderson (1,027) did it in 1993, and United’s Troy Mack (1,192) and Drew Becker (1,026) did it the year before. Another United tandem, Troy Stiffler (1,020) and Rickey Garshnick (1,020), did it in 1988.
ANOTHER ONE-TWO PUNCH: Purchase Line senior Todd Greene isn’t leading his team in rushing yards, but he is a crucial part to the Red Dragons’ running game.
Greene leads the area with 10.5 yards per carry. He has gained 430 yards on 41 attempts while teaming up with Grant Syster, the area’s leading rusher (1,291 yards), in the backfield.
“He’s very sudden when he gets the ball in the hole,” Purchase Line coach Brandon Overdorff said of Greene after last week’s game. “It’s a really good one-two punch with him and Grant. He’s been running hard the last few weeks, and he did really well tonight. He has all kinds of ability and had a great performance tonight.
“My hat goes off to all of our seniors. They play very vital roles, and I’m just happy for them on senior night to get a great victory.”
Greene, a 5-foot-8, 145-pound senior, rushed for 154 yards on 10 carries Friday night in the Red Dragons’ 41-0 thrashing of Saltsburg. He scored on runs of 23, 25 and 46 yards. Syster, a 5-10, 187-pound junior, finished with 219 yards.
Despite their 4-5 record, the Red Dragons are fourth in the area in rushing offense with 253.3 yards per game.
“Our line has really come together over the season, and that’s what has been helping us,” Syster said. “When the holes are there, we can run the ball. We kind of exploded tonight. Our running game has been good.”
KEY LOSS: Not only did Blairsville’s playoff hopes take a big hit in last week’s 38-6 loss to Portage, but the Bobcats in all likelihood also lost one of their key playmakers for the rest of the season.
Senior wide receiver Colton McMillan, who missed four games earlier this season with ankle injuries, reinjured his left ankle on the final play of the first half against Portage, and he will miss the Bobcats’ regular-season finale at Moshannon Valley on Friday, coach Rick Artley confirmed Wednesday.
McMillan was in on a group tackle of Portage running back Caleb Kephart on a 2-yard run to end the first half, and he was in visible pain as he struggled to get off the Memorial Stadium turf.
McMillan missed time at the start of the season with an injury to his right ankle. After getting healthy, he missed more time with a left ankle injury. Last week, the 150-pound McMillan injured his left ankle again.
One of quarterback Scott Thompson’s favorite targets, McMillan is third on the team with 15 receptions for 253 yards and a team-high three touchdowns.