Ligonier Valley has had the toughest assignment of any Heritage Conference teams this season.
The Rams had to face Penns Manor and Homer-Center, both unbeaten teams, in back-to-back weeks. Two weeks ago, Ligonier Valley lost to Penns Manor, 31-29, at home when the Comets engineered a remarkable game-winning drive that covered 91 yards in 33 seconds. Last week, the Rams lost at Homer-Center, 40-22, giving up 506 yards of total offense.
So who better to size up this week’s matchup between Penns Manor and Homer-Center than Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel?
“The thing with both is that their strength is in the offensive and defensive lines,” Beitel said. “They’re both big and physical. Homer-Center has more experience at the QB position. They have more of a natural QB, whereas Penns Manor’s is more of an athlete and runner. Homer-Center is going to have to throw the football a little bit. We know first-hand that Penns Manor is very tough up front, but you flip around, and Homer-Center just rushed for 463 yards against us and put up 500 yards of offense, which has never been done in my 10 years.”
Penns Manor gained 346 yards against Ligonier Valley, with 192 coming on the ground and 154 through the air — including all 91 of that final drive. The Rams finished with 297 total yards.
Homer-Center gashed Ligonier for 460 rushing yards. The Rams had 324 total yards, including 227 passing.
“Both are outstanding football teams,” Beitel said, “but Homer-Center is going to be at home. That’s going to be the deciding factor.”
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW?: Ligonier Valley has had it pretty tough the last two weeks, losing to Penns Manor on the last play of the game and getting run over by Homer-Center.
Penns Manor scored on the last play of the game after moving to the Ligonier Valley 37 with only 1 second on the clock. The Comets got the last play off, and it resulted in Clayton Stupic’s touchdown pass to Nathan Dumm.
While there has been some debate about whether the Comets could have legally gotten the play off with only 1 second on the clock, there has been no debate about this point: Penns Manor was lined up in an illegal formation with only six players on the line of scrimmage.
At least seven players have to be on the line of scrimmage to make the formation legal. No penalty flag was thrown, however, and the crucial play was allowed to stand, resulting in a gut-wrenching loss for the Rams.
“They didn’t have seven on the line of scrimmage,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “That’s one of the things we used to heal after that game. We legally won the football game, but it was not to be.”
RECORD PACE: Ligonier Valley senior tight end/wide receiver Alec Bloom has a chance to break a pair of all-time area records.
The 6-foot-7, 240-pound senior has 45 receptions for 830 yards. The area records were set by Blairsville’s Andy Ostach in 2005, when he raked in 58 passes for 955 yards.
That leaves Bloom, who has verbally committed to UConn, 13 receptions and 125 yards shy of the record with at least two games remaining.
Bloom’s team is still searching for a milestone win. The Rams entered the season needing seven wins to reach 400 in program history. They are 6-2 heading into Friday’s game against Northern Cambria.
BACK ON DEFENSE: Blairsville two-way starters Scott Thompson, Colton McMillan and Anthony Faulk have returned from injuries in the past few weeks, and all three started only on offense against United.
But that will change against Portage (6-1) this week.
“This is literally the very first time Anthony has played since the very first scrimmage,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said. “He had basically a week-and-a-half of practice.
“There’s no doubt Scott will be playing defense. Colton wasn’t going to play defense (last week), and Anthony wasn’t going to play, but out of necessity, we made some switches and they ended up on the field. (This week), there will definitely be some changes. You try to slowly get these guys back in the game when they sit, but Scott will be back on the field as a defensive player.”
STEPPING IN AND STEPPING UP: Since quarterback Dartagnan Suchar went down with an injury in Week 3, Northern Cambria has had to improvise to keep its running game up to snuff.
Running backs Joey Frontino and Nolan Paronish became the two key cogs in the offense, and the duo has filled the void nicely. Frontino has rushed for 619 yards and scored seven touchdowns, and Paronish, who has sat out the last two games, has run for 489 yards and scored three touchdowns.
But in last week’s win over Saltsburg, senior running back Derek Baker made his case to become the go-to guy. He scored on a 23-yard run and piled up a career-high 162 yards on 18 carries.
“That was my type of game,” Baker said. “I love running the ball up the middle, between the tackles. It’s a lot of fun. We were having a blast out there.”
Before last week, Baker’s most productive night came against United, when he ran for 80 yards on three carries, 72 of which came on one touchdown run.