Ligonier Valley, Bellwood-Antis set for rematch with District 6 championship berth on the line

Wednesday, November 6, 2019 | 5:46 PM

For the second time in as many years, Ligonier Valley and Bellwood-Antis find themselves opposite one another in the District 6 Class 2A football semifinals, both eyeing a spot in the championship game next weekend.

Barely unlike last season, both teams are undefeated at 11-0.

Just once-beaten a year ago, Bellwood-Antis was no match for also then-undefeated Ligonier Valley, as the Rams scored a comfortable 34-7 victory to grab a spot in the final opposite top-seeded Richland, against whom they suffered a 21-12 setback.

“We’ve watched them in person and we’ve watched them on film,” second-year Bellwood-Antis coach Nick Lovrich said. “The message is they’re bigger than us and have a lot of heart and desire. We’ve got a pretty mature group. They know there are some things they could do better.”

But, Lovrich insisted when the third-seeded Blue Devils travel to No. 2 Ligonier Valley on Saturday night, it will represent their toughest test of the year.

“They’re big up front, and their quarterback (Sam Sheeder) is good at scrambling,” Lovrich said of the Rams, who held West Shamokin without a first down last week in a 49-7 quarterfinal victory that saw the Wolves score their only touchdown on Jaiden Haswell’s 92-yard interception return of a Sheeder pass.

“Their skill kids are a little different than last year, but they’ve got a lot of talent in all those areas.”

Then, there’s the defense. Some of those big fellas on offense — three of seven regulars on either side of the ball average 268 pounds and are headed to Division I schools — simply flip-flop with the defense, and the secondary is sound.

Lovrich figures what’s really important is to not get caught up in the hype. Ligonier Valley, before the loss to Richland, had won two of the past three District 6-2A championships, advancing to the PIAA semifinals in 2016.

“In 2006, as an assistant here, we played Southern Columbia in the semifinals,” Lovrich said. “I know that feeling. I know what it feels like to get to that point and to be that type of program. Ligonier Valley has been doing it for a while now.”

But the Blue Devils, on their march to the semis that year, traveled to Ligonier Valley and knocked off the Rams along the way.

“We have a lot of respect for their program, and I believe they have a lot of respect for ours,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said.

Lovrich has continued a successful tradition that was carried on for many years by former Bellwood-Antis coach John Hayes. The two men are next-door neighboors.

“We still go over to his house after home games, build a fire, just like we did when he was in charge,” Lovrich said. “I certainly took in a lot from coach Hayes. We’ll be hearing all week how Ligonier Valley is good and we’re the underdog. It doesn’t matter. If you go out and play a good game, you have a chance. We’ve played some good teams.”

Bellwood-Antis withstood No. 6 Cambria Heights’ upset bid in the District 6 Class 2A quarterfinals to cop a 15-8 victory. The Blue Devils own a three-point victory over Class 3A Tyrone in their opener.

Junior running back Zach Mallon has rushed for 1,111 yards and 14 touchdowns, and senior quarterback Trevor Miller is 70 for 131 in pass completions for 1,179 yards and 13 touchdowns, four to senior tight end Troy Walker, who leads the Blue Devils with 26 receptions.

With Saturday’s kickoff days away, Weller Field in Ligonier, too wet to host Ligonier Valley’s playoff games a year ago, is back in top shape.

“The field’s in the best condition it’s ever been in at this time of year,” Beitel said. “When you look, you see grass, and that’s a plus.”

The Rams’ one-sided quarterfinal victory a week ago came without the services of leading rusher Kyrie Miller, their career rushing leader, who sat out with a twisted ankle.

Beitel said Miller is expected to play against the Blue Devils on Saturday. He has 1,651 yards and scored 30 touchdowns this season.


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