HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Defensive sequence fuels Ligonier Valley's comeback
Although the final statistics don’t reflect it, Ligonier Valley’s comeback win at Blairsville last week was a product of a stout defensive effort.
Blairsville outgained Ligonier Valley by more than 200 yards, 372-166, but the Rams got the last laugh and walked away with a 21-17 triumph in an early-season Heritage Conference showdown.
The rally started with a timely defensive stand.
After trailing 17-6 at halftime, Ligonier Valley scored on its opening drive of the second half to get within 17-14.
And just when it looked like Blairsville was going to march down the field and respond, the Rams stood their ground.
Blairsville gained 62 yards on three plays to start the ensuing drive and reached the Ligonier Valley 18-yard line. Then, on first down, Deion Robinson was stopped for a 1-yard loss. Quarterback Scott Thompson was sacked on consecutive plays for a total loss of 16 yards, and the Bobcats faced fourth-and-27 at the Rams’ 35-yard line, pushing them out of field goal range. After the big stop, the Rams quickly gave the ball away, fumbling two plays after the punt, but responded with a take-away of their own.
On Blairsville’s next possession, with the Bobcats at their 28-yard line, the Rams stopped Cameron Livingston for a 2-yard loss and then intercepted Thompson on second down.
That capped a stretch of four straight negative plays for Blairsville, with the interception to boot.
“That sequence of events … our kids started to slowly, one by one, get excited and get in to the football game,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said.
It was the turning point. Blairsville gained two first downs the rest of the game.
“Definitely the momentum switched, and we knew we’d be able to get pressure off the edge with our studs,” Ligonier Valley’s Scott Fennell, who came up with the interception, said. “Justin Bellas — a kid who came in who hasn’t started all two years; three years he’s been playing — he comes in and plays a great game.”
BULL BREAKS LOOSE: Teams sometimes stick one of their bulky offensive linemen in the backfield as a blocker in goal-line or short-yardage situations.
The Penns Manor Comets do it anywhere on the field in any situation.
Steve Dumm, a 5-foot-10, 235-pound lineman, spent a lot of time in the backfield last week in a 28-12 win at Saltsburg. Dumm carried six times for 45 yards in the first half and scored on a 4-yard run on which he bulldozed defenders into the end zone.
One of the area’s best at opening holes for running backs, Dumm is quite a load to bring down when he gets a running start with the ball tucked under his arm.
Dumm, who also plays inside linebacker, came up with a big interception near the goal line, thwarting Saltsburg’s bid to make it a one-possession game in the fourth quarter.
“He loves to get the ball,” Penns Manor coach Bill Packer said. “He runs hard, and the kids block for him. He got hit one time at the 5-yard line and took them all in. The interception, that was a big play. He’s just a great kid to have, and he’ll do anything to help the team win.”
ADJUSTING ON THE FLY: Saltsburg made a couple halftime adjustments after falling behind Penns Manor 28-0 last week.
The Trojans started using their linebackers on run blitzes, and even though it took a while for the results to show, the schemes paid dividends, and Saltsburg blanked the Comets in the second half.
It was a blitz on a pass play that turned the momentum in Saltsburg’s favor. With Penns Manor driving for a score to open the second half, the Trojan defense faced third-and-6 at its own 26. Penns Manor quarterback Lucas Kowalski dropped to pass, faced pressure and rolled right, where blitzing outside linebacker Tyler Frassenei caught him and stripped him of the ball. Steve Richards, the Trojans’ middle linebacker, scooped up the ball and galloped 67 yards for Saltsburg’s first touchdown.
“A couple kids made nice plays on that,” Saltsburg coach Tim Frassenei said. “The outside backer came off the edge and made the strip-sack, and that was a head-ups play by Stevie. We practice that every week with simple drills, and it was nice to see it executed.”
GAME-TIME DECISION: John Lucas, Marion Center’s leading rusher who went down in the first half of last week’s loss to Homer-Center, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and plans to play Friday at Ligonier Valley.
Marion Center coach Dave Malicky said he hopes Lucas’ sprained ankle will heal enough to allow the starting running back and outside linebacker to line up against the Rams.
In 2½ games, Lucas leads Marion Center with 159 yards on 30 carries.
“He’s day-to-day right now, and that’s the best I can say,” Malicky said. “John’s been running the ball really well, and it definitely hurt when he went down. In fact, we felt it right away. We had a drive going and it stalled a few plays after he left the field.”
Malicky pointed out that Lucas plays an equally integral role for defensively.
“Absolutely,” he said. “John just brings that experience from last year, and he’s very aggressive and good at getting to the football. He’s a big part of our offense and defense, but whether John can go or can’t go, we’re still going to have to play with consistency and try to put four good quarters together.”
PROPHETIC WORDS: Purchase Line coach Brandon Overdorff knew what he had in his inexperienced running back way before the season started.
On July 31, a couple weeks before camps started, Overdorff said Grant Syster had what it took to lead the Red Dragons this season.
The junior, who spent last season in the shadow of the since-graduated Josh Huey, is leading the area in rushing with 504 yards in three games. He has 137 more yards than any other back in the Heritage Conference.
“Grant Syster will take over the running back position from 1,000-yard rusher Josh Huey,” Overdorff said on that July day at the conference media day. “We think he has the talent to be a really good back in our conference. But he’s going to have to step up and prove that. That’s just talk right now. He has to back it up.”
It’s not just talk anymore.
WHITE-OUT IN APOLLO: Apollo-Ridge will hold a White-Out event for its game against Leechburg on Friday at Owens Field.
Vikings fans are asked to wear white shirts to the game to show support for the team. Students are encouraged to wear them during school on Friday, too.
Official white-out T-shirts are on sale at the school during lunch, and they will be available at the game, too. They can also be purchased from football coach John Skiba or baseball coach Jeremy Smail.
For information, call (724) 478-6000.
BLACK-OUT AT IHS: Indiana fans are encouraged to wear black for Friday night’s home game against Derry.