Heritage Conference football breakdown: Ligonier Valley favored to repeat

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019 | 11:20 AM


It was quite a football season for teams from the District 6 Heritage Conference in 2018.

Ligonier Valley (Class 2A) and United (A) played in the PIAA District 6 finals, nine of 10 teams qualified for the playoffs and during the annual cross-over battle with the WestPAC, Heritage Conference teams went 10-0.

Is a repeat performance in store in 2019?

“I don’t know if that will occur,” Purchase Line coach Matt Falisec said. “I believe the conference will be very competitive.”

Ligonier Valley (12-1, 9-0 in 2018) is the choice to win the conference again, which is no surprise. The Rams return numerous starters, including quarterback Sam Sheeder, running back Kyrie Miller and three Division I linemen: Michael Petrof, Christian Jablonski and Wylie Spiker.

The real battle will be for second place.

Northern Cambria (9-3, 7-2) finished second last season but stumbled in the playoffs. The Colts will rely on senior guards Joe Wagner and Joe Rezk to pave the way for senior tailback Adam Kopera.

United, which defeated Northern Cambria, reached the District 6 Class A finals only to fall to Juniata Valley. The Lions (9-5, 5-4) return the conference’s leading rusher, Hunter Cameron, but quarterback Kyle Silk transferred to Ligonier Valley and is awaiting an eligibility appeal hearing with PIAA officials after being ruled ineligible by District 6.

Purchase Line (3-8, 2-7) returns nine starters on offense and nine on defense and could rise in the standings.

“I feel we’ll have a good season,” Falisec said. “Can we challenge Ligonier Valley? I hope so. No one has done so the past three seasons.”

West Shamokin coach Jon McCullough said Purchase Line is a darkhorse because of a senior-laden team.

The Wolves (6-5, 5-4) also hope to be in the hunt. A lot will depend how Jaiden Haswell transitions from wide receiver to quarterback.

Homer-Center (7-5, 5-4) will be hard to beat because of the return of a three-year starter at quarterback, Ben Schmidt, as well as slot back Travis Mock.

Saltsburg (5-7, 3-6) is another team primed for a big season. The Trojans were the only junior high team to defeat Ligonier Valley three years ago. The Trojans return five two-way starters, led by quarterback Josh Gibbons and senior running back Angelo Bortoline.

Marion Center (5-6, 4-5) should be able to score points with Gaven Palko returning at quarterback and Garret Wells at running back.

Penns Manor (5-6, 4-5) was hit hard by graduation and returns only three starters, and Blairsville looks to climb out of the basement behind senior tackle Eli Clevenger and defensive back Jesse Klingensmith. The Bobcats (2-8, 1-8) were the only Heritage team that didn’t make the playoffs in 2018.

THE FAVORITE

1. Ligonier Valley (12-1)

The Rams are loaded again and are favorites to win another Heritage Conference title. With a sturdy line and returning skill players, they should challenge for another District 6 Class 2A title.

Preseason rankings

2. Purchase Line (3-8)

3. Northern Cambria (9-3)

4. United (9-5)

5. West Shamokin (6-5)

THE STARS

Hunter Cameron

United, jr., RB/DB

The 5-foot-11, 187-pound tailback ran for a conference-high 2,186 yards in 2018. He scored 18 touchdowns for the Lions.

Jaiden Haswell

West Shamokin, sr., QB/FS

The 5-10, 175-pounder will switch positions this season after he was the Wolves leading receiver with 47 catches for 650 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018.

Kyrie Miller

Ligonier Valley, sr., RB/OLB

The 5-9, 186-pounder rushed for 1,561 yards and scored 23 touchdowns in 2018 to pace the Rams ground game.

Gaven Palko

Marion Center, jr., QB/OLB

The 5-11, 170-pounder completed 68 of 117 passes for 1,185 yards and touchdowns last season for Marion Center.

Ben Schmidt

Homer-Center, jr., QB/DB

The 6-foot, 180-pounder started in the PIAA Class A championship game. He rushed for 882 yards and seven touchdowns and completed 79 of 153 passes for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018.

DON’T MISS

9.7: Armagh at New Florence

Actually, it’s United and Ligonier Valley playing to celebrate New Florence’s Sesquicentennial at the old Laurel Valley Stadium. Both teams will wear throwback uniforms.

9.27: Northern Cambria at Homer-Center

Quarterback Ben Schmidt will lead the Wildcats against Northern Cambria in a game that could have seeding implications.

10.18: Purchase Line at Saltsburg

This could be a game that decides seeding in the District 6 Class A playoffs. Both reached the playoffs in 2018.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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