NORTHERN CAMBRIA — The Ligonier Valley School District was closed on Friday in observance of Fort Day.
The Ligonier Valley High School football team, though, was open for business as usual on Friday night.
Northern Cambria did an effective job of playing keep-away from the undefeated Rams for a quarter and a half. Then Kyrie Miller became Ligonier Valley’s career rushing leader on an 80-yard touchdown run, and the Rams posted their 36th straight Heritage Conference victory, 42-7, on Friday night at Duffy Daugherty Stadium.
“We’re just having fun with it,” Miller said of the conference win streak after he ran for a game-high 109 yards and scored two touchdowns. “It’s awesome to have, but we’re sort of just taking it game-by-game and having fun with it.”
John Beard caught four passes for 124 yards, taking a wide receiver screen 69 yards to the house on Ligonier’s next offensive play after Miller’s long touchdown run to serve as the exclamation point on a 21-point second quarter. Sam Sheeder completed 8 of 11 passes for 181 yards, and Ayden Kelley reached the end zone on a pair of short runs.
The game was close, though, for 17 minutes. About as healthy as it’s been since the second week of the season, Northern Cambria found success moving the ball on the ground and chewing up the clock.
However, the Colts weren’t able to produce any points. And, after taking over at their own 20 with five minutes left in the second half, the Rams exploded.
Miller took a handoff going right, got to the outside and raced down the visiting sideline, splitting two defenders along the way for a touchdown that made it 21-0.
One the first play after getting the ball back, Sheeder threw a screen to Beard, who followed almost the same path Miller had to reach the end zone.
All that remained after that was to see whether Ligonier Valley would go up by 35 points to bring the running clock into play — the Rams did when Miller scored on an 8-yard gallop after a blocked punt — and what the final score would be.
“Those guys get the ball in their hands, and they make plays,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said of Miller and Beard. “We’ve seen this kind of thing before, where the opponent’s game plan is to slow the game down. It’s just a matter of us getting that stop, getting them behind the sticks.
“There’s game plans where you’re trying to win the game, and game plans where you are trying to stay in the game.”
It was the case of another game, another record for Miller. He came into the contest needing 102 yards to equal Collin Smith’s Ligonier Valley career rushing mark of 3,010 yards. Last week, he broke Smith’s touchdown record.
“It’s awesome,” Miller said. “At the same time, I couldn’t do it without my teammates.”
Adam Kopera rushed for 96 yards for Northern Cambria, including 89 in the first half. The Colts dropped to 2-6, only getting on the board on Owen Prasko’s 2-yard run with 53 seconds remaining, but they felt hanging in with Ligonier was a step in the right direction.
“It could have been easy for them to say, ‘Let’s just chalk this one up to another loss,’ but they didn’t,” Northern Cambria coach Sam Shutty said. “They battled every step of the way. Yeah, they made mistakes, but they didn’t let that get in their way.”
The Rams, meanwhile, seem determined not to let anything get in their way. I
“We have to improve. There’s no doubt about it. We’re not where we should be,” senior lineman Michael Petrof said. “We just need to get ready for the playoffs. We’re not where we should be.”
Ligonier Valley is in a dogfight for the No. 1 seed in a powerful District 6 Class 2A playoff field. The Rams are one of three teams with 8-0 records — Bellwood-Antis and defending district champion Richland are the other two — and Penns Valley is 7-1.
“Hopefully, we can move forward from this. We just play the next play, whatever happens. We just line up again like nothing happened,” Beard said. “I thought we did OK, overall, as a team.”
Ligonier didn’t punt until late in the game. Miller took the opening kickoff back 36 yards to the Colts 41. A problem with the shotgun snap set the Rams back at the 10-yard line for third-and-goal, but Sheeder was up to the challenge, finding Brody Krieger at the pylon for the first points of the game.
On the Rams’ next series, they marched from their own 33 in 10 plays, helped along by Sheeder-to-Beard connections of 32 and 11 yards and a 17-yard pass to Miller. Miller had to come out, leaving Kelley to finish things off from the 2 less than a minute into the second quarter.
After holding the Colts scoreless on a second straight time-consuming march, the Rams broke out the big plays and took command.
“The big thing right now is to get ready for playoffs,” senior lineman Christian Jablonski said. “We know that to be ready for the playoffs, we need to take it to another level that we’re not at right now.”