LIGONIER — Touted as one of the top Class 2A teams in the state and the overwhelming pick to win a fourth straight Heritage Conference title, big things are expected of the Ligonier Valley football team.
On Friday night, the Rams looked as good as advertised.
Behind a slew of big plays and a host of contributors, Ligonier Valley began 2019 with a bang in a 67-0 thumping of visiting Homer-Center at Weller Field. The Rams scored touchdowns on their first five possessions and tallied well over 400 yards of offense before halftime.
“Overall, it was just a great team effort,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said.
The victory extends the Rams’ record Heritage conference winning streak to 29 games. It also continues a recent run of dominance in season openers. Ligonier Valley has won the past four — against Homer-Center and Marion Center, respectively — by a combined score of 234-6.
While Ligonier Valley’s first score Friday took a lot of work — quarterback Sam Sheeder hit Matthew Marinchak for 4 yards on a fourth-and-6 play to cap a 15-play march on the game’s opening drive — the Rams opted for long-gainers the rest of the half.
Sheeder hit Marinchak for a 66-yard touchdown strike along the left sideline to begin the next drive, and just one play into the following possession, Kyrie Miller raced 89 yards for another score to make it 21-0.
Miller later scored on a 13-yard run and a 23-yard hookup from Sheeder. The Rams’ other first-half score came on a 20-yard interception return from John Beard.
Ligonier Valley led 41-0 at halftime to trigger the mercy rule in the second half.
Beitel said the Rams’ run of big plays were partially the result of a wide-open middle of the field.
“From our standpoint, they were in Cover Zero, so they didn’t have anyone in the middle of the field and were playing two levels of defense,” he said. “For us, as soon as you get past your guy, there’s nothing in front of you but the end zone. And that’s what you saw several times.”
A mix of veteran leaders and players in new roles helped the Rams build their big lead.
Miller rushed 16 times for 189 yards, including 153 yards before halftime. The senior running back, who added a 23-yard scamper early in the third, also tallied four touchdowns (three rushing, one receiving).
Sheeder, who was the Rams’ starting quarterback as sophomore in 2017 before suffering a season-ending knee injury, completed 10 of 11 passes for 230 yards and three scores in the first half.
Senior John Beard, thrust into a starting role at receiver this year, pulled in five catches for 108 yards before halftime to go along with his interception return. He also connected on seven extra points on special teams.
In all, 442 of the Rams’ 596 yards of offense came in the first half.
“They flexed their muscles and showed their will,” Homer-Center coach Greg Page said. “They’re a great football team — they’re physical and we didn’t have an answer for a lot of the things they did — but you can’t let them strike quickly like that (in the first half).
“It’s all about momentum and just carrying it through, and before long you’re thinking, we’ve just got to get out of here. There’s no coming back once you get to a certain point, and everybody knows that, and it’s hard to bring them back when you’re on the losing end of something like that. I told them in the locker room they should be embarrassed with the final score and some of the things the happened. But to (Ligonier Valley’s credit, they got rolling on all levels.”
Not much went right for Homer Center.
The Wildcats converted a 41-yard pass from Ben Schmidt to Cobe Daughtery on their first play from scrimmage, but were held to just 64 yards the rest of the half.
To make matters worse, Homer-Center — which lost three starting linemen and 1,000-yard tailback Logan Williams to graduation — played a large portion of Friday’s contest without Schmidt.
The junior third-year starter, who totaled more than 2,000 yards of offense last season, was pulled about five minutes into the second quarter with what Page called a muscle bruise in his leg. Schmidt didn’t return and finished 1 of 12 passing and just 3 rushing yards on eight attempts.
While the Wildcats were forced to use three quarterbacks on Friday — senior backup Frankie Maratita was shaken up early in the fourth and was replaced by sophomore Anthony Rowland — the Rams showed off their depth in the second half.
Beitel’s son, Nick, rushed for 68 yards on six attempts, including a 6-yard touchdown. Backup quarterback Ethan Boring scored on a direct snap from a yard out, and the Rams’ defense closed the scoring as Jacob Hay recovered a fumble in the end zone in the waning minutes.
“These kids have worked really hard to get where they are and for us to use all of our weapons, that’s a great thing,” Beitel said.
All things considered, Friday was a successful first step with big expectations both outside — Ligonier Valley is ranked second in Class 2A by Pennsylvania Football News and third by the Harrisburg Patriot-News in each outlet’s preseason rankings — and inside the locker room.
“All offseason, we’re hitting and competing with each other and to finally go out and do it to somebody else, and show dominance, it definitely gives us a lot of confidence,” Miller said.