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H.S. FOOTBALL: Rams stage another rally

by ERIC ARBORE For the Gazette on September 28, 2013 11:00 AM

LIGONIER — After trailing by 12 points at halftime, Ligonier Valley scored 19 unanswered points en route to a 33-26 Homecoming victory over Windber on Homecoming Friday night in a non-conference football game at Weller Field.

Senior quarterback Scott Fennell led the offense, accounting for 271 yards of total offense, and the defense recorded a shutout in the second half for the

second time this season. Fennell rushed for 159 yards on 22 carried and passed 112 on an 8-for-15 effort.

The defense responded again, same is it did when the Rams trailed Blairsville by 11 points, 17-6 at halftime, in Week 3.

Windber jumped on Ligonier Valley early. After the opening kickoff, junior Jared Maurizio took the first play from scrimmage 70 yards for a touchdown, putting the Rams in a 7-0 hole 16 seconds into the game.

“That offense is very difficult to defend,” said Ligonier coach Roger Beitel in reference the multitude of reverses and direct snaps the Ramblers employed. “Last year, we did a better job of that. This year, we made the plays in the second half to secure the win.”

The Rams responded with an eight-play, 62-yard drive capped by Fennell’s first of two rushing touchdowns, this one from 11 yards. Dan Croyle kicked the game-tying extra point.

After Windber scored to take a 13-7 lead, Justin Bellas tied the game when he returned a fumble 21 yards for a score, and Croyle’s extra point put Ligonier ahead.

The Rams didn’t lead again until the fourth quarter.

Windber drove 67 yards on five plays for the go-ahead score in the second quarter. Quarterback Devon Tomlinson hit Gray Bryan for a 14-yard score.

The Ramblers struck again on a drive set up by Bryan’s interception and 26-yard return to Ligonier Valley’s 32-yard line. Dan Tomlinson scored from 9 yards to extend Windber’s lead to 26-14.

“We’re very young,” said Beitel. “(Falling behind and responding) is something that builds character for us down the road.”

The Rams tried to respond before halftime, and with time winding down, Ligonier drove to the Windber 27 with time for one play. Collin Smith hit Fennell on a halfback pass, but the play was ruled out of bounds. The Ligonier sideline was livid, but the emotional response set the stage for the second half.

“(The team) was upset,” said Beitel. “They played the second half with a lot of edge. They had a chip on their shoulder, and that’s the way you expect them to respond.”

Ligonier Valley came out in the second half intent on running the ball. The Rams threw only one pass in the second half while dominating the line of scrimmage.

The first drive of the second half lasted only three minutes and covered 54 yards, with Fennell scoring on a 12-yard burst.

After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Rams drove 80 yards in nine plays to tie the game. Dereck Croyle bolted for 11 yards to score the touchdown, and the missed extra-point kick left the game tied.

“That’s been our Achilles all year, the inability to stop the run between the tackles,” said Windber coach Matt Grohal. “They did a good job of exploiting that. We have 11 bodies, and that’s it. We have to juggle guys around (to different positions).”

The Rams put the game away in the fourth quarter when Dereck Croyle scored on a 5-yard run. Windber was unable to stop Ligonier from converting third downs and running out the clock.

“We got in at the half, and we were able to talk to our kids and make some adjustments,” Beitel said of the commitment to rushing the ball in the second half. “Obviously, those adjustments worked very well for us.”

Ligonier Valley, 5-0 overall and 4-0 in the Hertiage Conference, will try to remain perfect on the road at Saltsburg next week.

“If you’re hoping to get a good playoff seed and you’re hoping to be successful in the playoffs, you need to win as many games as you possibly can,” said Beitel. “Windber’s a good football team, and they’re going to win a lot of games so this is a good win for us.”

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