Early surge pushes South Side past Ligonier Valley in Class 2A

Friday, November 5, 2021 | 11:08 PM

From one end of the WPIAL to the other, Ligonier Valley traveled to South Side Beaver on Friday — a span of 83 miles — for its first appearance in the WPIAL football playoffs.

When the Class 2A first-round game was over, the Rams were on top, 34-14 — the South Side Rams, that is — after jumping on the Ligonier Valley Rams early and building a three-touchdown lead before holding off a Ligonier Valley rally.

No. 8 South Side (8-3) advances to play top-seeded Steel Valley (10-0) in the quarterfinals Friday at a site and time to be determined.

Beaver County-based South Side last played in a WPIAL title game in 2018, losing to … Steel Valley. They own two WPIAL championships from 1970 and ‘99.

“We didn’t know what to expect from (Ligonier Valley),” South Side coach Luke Travelpiece said. “We knew they were tested in beating (Class 4A) Indiana and (3A) Elizabeth Forward earlier in the year. But you look at the rest of their body of work, and we didn’t know what to expect.”

No. 9 Ligonier Valley (8-3) overcame a rash of injuries to finish the regular season strong and claim its first WPIAL playoff berth after rejoining District 7 before the start of the 2020 season.

LV was forced to make changes at a number of positions, including quarterback, where Broderick Schreyer took over at midseason for injured starter Haden Sierocky.

“Our kids deserve credit with all the adversity they faced,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “They still made the playoffs and they played their butts off. Everyone was engaged in this football game.”

Parker Statler rushed for 172 yards on just seven carries and scored three touchdowns to lead South Side, which won its fifth game in a row.

The Rams of South Side set an early tone with two quick scores by Statler in the first 2 minutes, 12 seconds.

“He doesn’t need to have many carries to make an impression,” Travelpiece said. “He keeps you off balance and that makes him even more valuable.”

Statler raced 58 yards for his first touchdown on the game’s second play and scored on a 2-yard run a short time later following a Ligonier Valley fumble.

After falling behind 14-0, Ligonier Valley’s first serious drive ended with another fumble at the South Side 25, and it had another drive thwarted in the second quarter when South Side’s Ryan Navarra intercepted Schreyer’s pass.

South Side expanded its lead to 21-0 midway through the second on Cameron Knox’s 5-yard touchdown run.

Ligonier Valley finally got on the board, aided by a roughing-the-passer call on fourth down, scoring in the final minute of the first half on Schreyer’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Matthew Marinchak.

When Grant Dowden caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Schreyer in the third quarter, Ligonier Valley seized the momentum. But Statler came to the rescue for South Side, breaking free and rambling down the left sideline 63 yards for a touchdown and a 28-14 lead with 5:39 remaining in the third.

“We just told our guys, ‘It’s time to respond,’” Travelpiece said. “Parker makes a big play and that settles us down. He’s done that a number of times this year. Instead of it being a one-score game, we’re back up by two scores. And the way our defense was playing, we really had a lot of confidence.”

Knox’s second touchdown run of the game for South Side came on a 3-yarder with 7:44 left that put the game out of reach.

Beitel said South Side had too much firepower to overcome, especially after Ligonier Valley had fallen behind so early.

“Earlier on, it looked like they were in one speed and we were in a different speed,” he said, “and we never really recovered from the opening, especially with what they did in terms of just getting after us on both sides of the ball.

“That’s a good football team, and they deserve all the credit for what they did. We kind of just had a difficult time finding our game, and when we did, it was little too late.”

Schreyer passed for 158 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for Ligonier Valley. He finished just 11 for 26 while constantly having to scramble and fight off a South Side rush.

“Not seeing them live,” Beitel said, “you don’t know what their actual speed is like, and we weren’t able to simulate that speed in practice. (Statler) can scoot.”

Ligonier Valley, a longtime WPIAL member decades ago, spent 50 years as a member of District 6, where the Westmoreland County-based Rams won Class 2A titles in 2016 and ‘17.

“We made history playing in our first WPIAL playoff game because the kids did a great job this entire season,” Beitel said. “In the end, we wanted to make more history. We wanted to get that first WPIAL win in the playoffs.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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