In likely its final Appalachian Bowl appearance, Ligonier Valley aims to take down Portage

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Friday, October 25, 2019 | 2:17 PM


Ligonier Valley has shown no sympathy this year, enforcing a 35-point mercy rule in all nine football games to date — outscoring opponents by a combined 421-47.

This season, however, is no different than others in recent years for the undefeated Rams.

For what likely will be the final time, Ligonier Valley (9-0) will play Saturday in the District 6 Appalachian Bowl. It will be the team’s fourth consecutive appearance. The Class 2A Rams will face Class A Portage (8-1) at 7 p.m. at Penns Manor.

“We may have played in the last three Appalachian Bowls, but this is the first Appalachian Bowl we will be playing with this team,” coach Roger Beitel said. “This team has the same character as the previous three teams.”

Ligonier Valley, ranked No. 3 in the Trib HSSN state rankings, claimed its fifth District 6 Class Heritage Conference title since 2010, when the district closed Laurel Valley High School and merged the schools.

Portage qualified for its first Appalachian Bowl by winning the Class A Western Pennsylvania Athletic Conference championship in a tiebreaker after finishing the regular season with an identical record as Meyersdale and Berlin-Brothersvalley.

With 11 Class 2A schools in District 6, Ligonier Valley seems to have outgrown its surroundings in the Class A-heavy Heritage Conference, where three of the 10 teams are classified in 2A.

As the only Westmoreland County school outside the WPIAL, Ligonier Valley wants to leave District 6. It is awaiting an approval in November by the District 6 Committee and the WPIAL Board of Directors.

“It’s special and unique that this is probably the last game we’ll play representing the Heritage Conference,” said senior lineman Michael Petrof, a Navy commit.

Currently, there are 32 teams in the WPIAL that make up four Class 2A conferences.

Ligonier Valley has beaten three other Class A schools in the Appalachian Bowl by a combined score of 142-8 — Conemaugh Township (56-0) in 2016, Berlin-Brothersvalley (41-0) in 2017 and Shade (45-8) in 2018.

The 2016 Rams posted a 14-1 record and reached the PIAA Class 2A semifinals before losing to eventual champion Southern Columbia, 31-27.

Like its three previous Appalachian Bowl appearances, Ligonier Valley is a heavy favorite, a notion that’s not lost on Portage coach Gary Gouse, who is in his 28th season with the Mustangs.

“The District 6 playoffs are very important to us,” he said. “This game doesn’t mean a whole lot in the scheme of things, but we’re going to play as hard as we can.”

Portage, whose only loss is a 21-13 decision Sept. 13 against Berlin-Brothersvalley, is paced by senior quarterback Connor Price, who has combined to rush (544) and pass (530) for more than 1,000 yards.

Senior Kyrie Miller has rushed for 1,417 yards and is Ligonier Valley’s all-time leader. He has scored 27 touchdowns this season. Quarterback Sam Sheeder has thrown for 1,337 yards and rushed for 360 for the Rams.

“Our region has outstanding football players, and our sport needs these types of opportunities,” Beitel said. “We are grateful for our opportunities and will always treat it that way. We’re truly honored to be part of the 2019 Appalachian Bowl.”

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