RICHLAND TOWNSHIP — With the injury woes they endured in the latter part of the season, the eighth-seeded Ligonier Valley Rams needed to play virtually mistake-free football to knock off top-seeded Richland.
Ligonier Valley never rolled over but surrendered touchdowns off three first-half turnovers and allowed a punt return for a touchdown en route to a 46-6 loss to unbeaten Richland in a District 6 Class AA quarterfinal-round football playoff game Friday.
Ligonier Valley, which began the season 6-0, concluded the season with five straight losses.
Richland, the third-ranked team in the state, advanced to the semifinals to take on the winner of tonight’s Bald Eagle Area-Tyrone game.
“We made a lot of plays against a really good football team. We just had some bad breaks,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said.
Tanner Solarczyk put Richland on the board first when he scored from 4 yards to cap a nine-play, 60-yard drive with 9:09 to play in the first quarter to make it a 6-0 game. Matt Shaffer hit Ryan Ball on the two-point conversion play for an 8-0 lead.
Just six plays later, defensive back Nick Naglic intercepted a Scott Fennell pass and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown to give Richland a 15-0 lead with 6:27 left in the first.
“We like to score fast and play fast, and that was good because we were able to get up a couple of scores because of our defense,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said. “Nick’s such a great player overall in all three aspects, and he made some great plays for us tonight.”
Naglic intercepted a Fennell pass on the sixth play of Ligonier Valley’s next drive and returned it 10 yards to set up Richland’s next score. Shaffer hooked up with Kyle Flick for an 11-yard touchdown seven plays later to make it a 22-0 game with 1:57 to go in the first.
On Richland’s next drive, Shawn Gindlesberger stretched his team’s lead to 25-0 when he booted a 34-yard field goal with 8:20 left in the second quarter.
Less than six minutes later, on a Daniel Croyle punt, Flick took a lateral pitch from Shaffer and returned it 83 yards for a touchdown to stretch Richland’s lead to 32-0 with 2:48 to play in the first half.
“There was no planning there. That was improvised,” Bailey said. “We were in a prevent defense, and Matt Shaffer, our quarterback, grabbed the punt, made a few moves, and then looked to make an option pitch to Kyle Flick, who grabbed it and took it the rest of the way.”
Offensive guard Ben Verhovsek scored on a 6-yard run with 31 seconds to play in the first half to end a six-play, 53-yard drive, extending Richland’s lead to 39-0.
Solarczyk scored on a 35-yard run on Richland’s first drive of the second half to make it 46-0 with 7:57 to play in the third quarter.
“In the second half, we needed to move our feet and we needed to tackle with our shoulders,” Beitel said. “But you prepare for this team, and what are you going to take away? You can’t take away the run because they can throw, and you can’t take away the pass because they can run. They’re just very well-balanced, they’re very well-coached, and they’ve got it going on.
“They’re as good as advertised.”
Dereck Croyle ended a seven-play, 75-yard drive and put Ligonier Valley on the board by scoring from 5 yards to make it a 46-6 game with 4:03 to play in the third.
Croyle led Ligonier Valley with 63 yards on 14 carries. Fennell completed 7 of 14 passes with 60 yards and three interceptions.
Solarczyk ran for 131 yards on 12 carries for Richland.