SALTSBURG — Ligonier Valley found itself in unfamiliar territory just five minutes into Friday night’s Heritage Conference road game.
The Rams trailed 6-3 after Saltsburg’s Josh Gibbons turned a fake punt into an 89-yard touchdown pass to Nathan Slapinski, tem-
porarily sending shockwaves through the stands and sidelines.
“It’s the first time we’ve been behind in a long time,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “It was a very nice play that they ran.”
“It may have caught us a little bit off-guard, but fortunately, we were able to bounce right back,” Rams running back Kyrie Miller said.
Ligonier Valley quickly regained the lead four plays later on the first of Miller’s five touchdown runs, a 9-yarder, and never looked back.
The Rams (4-0) scored 54 consecutive points before allowing a late touchdown return to claim a 57-12 over the Trojans (2-2).
The victory was Ligonier Valley’s 32nd Heritage Conference win in a row dating to 2015. The Rams are chasing a record-tying fourth straight conference title.
Miller finished with 194 yards on 18 carries and added touchdown runs of 12, 1, 18 and 4 yards.
Quarterback Sam Sheeder had seven carries for 100 yards and one touchdown (17 yards) and running back Nick Beitel added 86 yards on three carries and two scores (52 and 27 yards).
“Our offensive line just came off the ball and we were able to hit some big running plays,” Coach Beitel said. (Miller) is a special back. He’s got good speed and offensive line did a good job.”
In addition to rushing for eight rushing touchdowns, Ligonier Valley managed 458 yards rushing and averaged 11.74 yards per carry behind an offensive line that features three Division I prospects — Michael Petrof, Christian Jablonski and Wylie Spiker.
“We knew it was going to be a tough challenge going up against Ligonier Valley with their size,” said Saltsburg coach Mike Leasure, whose team had its two-game winning streak snapped. “They overpowered us tonight. We knew it was coming.
“The Miller kid is an extremely tough running back. And you throw their three Division I linemen in there and that’s a tough tandem to deal with on offense.”
Ligonier Valley had 30 first downs and 551 yards total offense to Saltsburg’s four first downs, three of which came through the air.
“Our defensive front is impressive, with those big guys, and I don’t care what classification we’re talking about,” Beitel said. “It’s a blessing for us to have those guys.”
The Rams’ defense held the Trojans to minus-6 yards rushing and 141 yards total offense.
They also picked off four Gibbons passes — all in the first half. Collecting interceptions were Ethan Boring, Joe Ersick, Nick Beitel and John Beard, who added a 25-yard field goal and six PATs.
“The was the issue tonight — they got pressure and Josh had to get rid of the ball quickly and get it out of his hands,” Leasure said.
Boring started at quarterback for the Rams and Sheeder entered the game in the second quarter.
“Ethan is a capable backup,” Beitel said. “We just wanted to give him an opportunity to start a game and play. Sam is our starter.”
Despite his team receiving a forfeit win over United last week, Miller has racked up some impressive numbers in three games — 596 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, including one receiving.
“The (line) definitely opened up the holes for me,” Miller said. “It’s awesome to have the big guys up front, along with the other two guys.”
The one negative for Ligonier Valley was being penalized 11 times for 105 yards.
Saltsburg, on the other hand, never got untracked on offense after Gibbons connected with Slapinski, who had four catches for 115 yards, to briefly give the Trojans the lead.
Saltsburg’s Rocco Bartolino halted the Rams’ scoring spree by scoring on a 57-yard kickoff return late in the fourth quarter with a running clock in place.
“I’m proud of our kids and they way they came out and battled,” Leasure said. “That’s a really good team over there.”
Ligonier Valley will be looking for its 33rd Heritage Conference win in a row next week when it plays host to West Shamokin, while Saltsburg will look to bounce back at Penns Manor.
“It’s great to have (that winning streak), great to be part of,” Miller said. “But we’re just focused on game-by-game. West Shamokin is next, and that’s all we’re really worrying about.”