H.S. FOOTBALL: Colts rally to upset Rams
LIGONIER — A slew of long scoring plays put Ligonier Valley in the driver’s seat for long stretches against Northern Cambria, but when the lights dimmed Friday at Weller Field, the Colts has prevailed.
Northern Cambria outgained the Rams 422-317, including 360-183 rushing, but still faced a 20-point deficit late in the third quarter.
Fortunately for the Colts, their advantages in size and strength eventually wore down the Rams. Northern Cambria took control in the third quarter and scored touchdowns on three of its last four possessions for a 35-34 win in a Heritage Conference football game.
Northern Cambria (5-4) kept its District 6 Class A playoff hopes alive, while Ligonier Valley (6-3), ranked sixth the Class AA rankings entering the game, played without the area’s most productive receiver, Alec Bloom, and dropped its third straight game after a 6-0 start. Bloom found out earlier in the day that a knee injury would prevent him from playing.
“It does. It’s huge,” Northern Cambria coach Paul Taranto said when asked if the win felt like a playoff victory. “It might even be better than a playoff win. Ligonier’s had our number the last couple years, and it’s nice to come down here and knock them off.”
The Rams used a gadget play on just their second play from scrimmage to jump out to a 6-0 lead. Two plays after Northern Cambria’s Derek Baker lost a fumble on his own 38, Ligonier Valley quarterback Scott Fennell went in motion to allow running back Dereck Croyle to take a direct snap.
Croyle trotted to his left and handed a reverse handoff to Jordan Jones, who scrambled to his right and threw a strike to Fennell in the right flat. Fennell ran 28 yards for a touchdown just 45 seconds into the game.
“That was fun, and you can give credit on that play to Jordan Bretz,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “He’s a freshman who came up with that play on one of our fun-play days. We call it Bretz’s Bad-Boy Breakout.”
The Colts fired back and marched 69 yards on 11 plays. Baker capped the march with a 5-yard run and booted the extra point for a 7-6 lead.
Northern Cambria defensive back Seth Bearer halted the Rams’ next drive by intercepting a pass at his own 5.
The Colts followed with four rushing first downs, setting up a play-action pass from Tyler Pershing to Joey Olish for a 42-yard touchdown and a 14-6 lead with 9:09 to play in the second.
Fennell made a clutch play on fourth-and-long on Ligonier Valley’s next drive to reverse the swing. On a fourth-and-14, he uncorked a 23-yard touchdown pass to a sliding Garrett Tobias in the end zone with 2:50 to play in the first half. Fennell then darted in for the two-point conversion for a 14-14 tie.
Fennell made another key play on the next drive. With just seven seconds to play in the half, he scrambled to his right and heaved a 28-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Croyle, who made a miraculous grab while laying on his back as time expired. Croyle booted the extra point to give Ligonier Valley a 21-14 lead.
“We had four guys right there. Four-on-one and he slides and catches the ball,” Taranto said. “That felt like a backbreaker ... but these kids didn’t hang their heads, and they battled back.”
The Colts’ Nolan Paronish muffed a punt early in the third quarter, and Ligonier Valley recovered at the Colts’ 29. On the next play, Fennell tossed a deep pass to Tobias, who kept his concentration on a tipped ball in the end zone for a 28-14 lead 1:20 into the second half.
The Rams padded their lead on their next drive when Fennell scored on a quarterback sweep from 27 yards with 5:45 to play in the third quarter to make it 34-14.
The Colts refused to fold, though, and drove 66 yards on 11 plays, scoring with 17 seconds left in the third. Center Jay McGary made a heads-up play and fell on a Joey Frontino fumble in the end zone to cap the drive.
Then, on the first play of the Colts’ next possession, Frontino bolted 80 yards for a touchdown to trim the lead to 34-28 with 9:25 left.
“I ran through the hole and thank God my tackle laid a great block there,” Frontino, who rushed for a career-high 217 yards, said. “He sprung me. I wasn’t going anywhere without him because that linebacker had me eyed up.”
Later in the quarter, the Rams were driving and appeared to have the win all but wrapped up when Dereck Croyle fumbled an exchange with Fennell. Northern Cambria’s Zack Lieb recovered the loose ball at his own 38 with 4:25 to play.
The Colts then ran the ball on seven straight plays, picking up first downs on three, to advance to the Rams’ 16. Baker bulled his way to the 1 for a 15-yard gain, and Frontino plowed into the end zone to tie the game 34-34 with 35 seconds to play.
Baker, who was 5-for-5 in extra points, tacked on the kick to give the Colts a 35-34 lead with about 30 seconds left.