Ligonier Valley cruises in probable Heritage Conference swan song

Saturday, October 19, 2019 | 12:04 AM

Ligonier Valley’s football dominance in the Heritage Conference is no secret, especially to its District 6 opponents, including Blairsville, the latest victim of a Rams machine that has produced 37 consecutive conference victories dating to 2015.

Those schools likely won’t be concerned anymore if Ligonier Valley is approved to join the WPIAL beginning next season.

Ligonier Valley, playing in perhaps its final regular-season contest in District 6, rode Kyrie Miller’s 258 yards rushing and four touchdowns Friday night to a 58-14 rout of visiting Blairsville and wrapped up its fourth consecutive undefeated Heritage Conference record.

As conference champs for a fourth time in a row, the Rams (9-0, 9-0) will meet Portage (8-1, 8-1), the Western Pennsylvania Athletic Conference champion, in the annual District 6 Appalachian Bowl on Oct. 26 at Penns Manor.

Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel dodged questions about the possibility of his team playing against WPIAL opponents at Weller Field as early as next season if the school is approved for membership in District 7.

“I’m excited that we just won our 37th (conference) game in a row and fourth consecutive Heritage Conference championship,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the Appalachian Bowl next week, and that’s really all I have to say about that.”

The Ligonier Valley board of directors on Monday unanimously voted to return to the WPIAL in all sports in 2020-21, meaning Ligonier Valley, a Class 2A program in football, would leave the predominantly Class A Heritage Conference and be matched in a WPIAL conference made up exclusively of Class 2A schools.

The move is pending approval from District 6 and WPIAL officials.

Ligonier Valley, the only Westmoreland County school outside the WPIAL, previously was a member from 1927-69 before leaving to join District 6.

Miller, a 5-foot-9, 186-pound senior who has yet to make a college choice, atoned for an early first-quarter fumble near the goal line by running over the Blairsville defense.

He scored on runs of 14, 43, 56 and 21 yards and ran his season rushing total to 1,409 yards after carrying 16 times in less than three quarters before being replaced in the lineup.

The 43-yarder was a result of a lateral from John Beard.

After Beard caught a pass from quarterback Sam Sheeder, advancing seven yards, he pitched the ball to Miller, who completed the 50-yard play by racing into the end zone to give Ligonier Valley a 23-0 lead.

The play, which occurred in the final minute of the first half, was set up by Joe Ersick’s interception of a pass by Blairsville quarterback Zak Artley with 1 minute, 49 seconds left.

“It’s not the first time we’ve run that play,” Beitel said. “It certainly worked out well for us this time.”

Ligonier Valley struggled early on to shake loose from Blairsville, but the razzle-dazzle pass-and-run play made a statement heading into the locker room at the half.

“It was 16-0 and we had a chance to score on our end and we miss it. It makes it tough,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said. “We had a letdown, then, the other way. They’re good. Nobody else has played with them this year, either.”

Sheeder completed 11 of 18 passes for 142 yards. He threw a pair of touchdown passes of 35 yards to Cage Dowden in the first quarter to give Ligonier Valley a 9-0 lead and 13 yards to Matthew Marinchak in the third quarter.

Zak Artley led Blairsville (3-6, 3-6) with 199 yards passing, including an 8-yard scoring strike to Ashton Perfetti after Ligonier Valley had taken a 30-0 lead in the third quarter and was looking to ignite the mercy rule, which the Rams finally succeeded in doing early in the fourth.

Nick Beitel scored on a pair of 10-yard touchdown runs in the fourth quarter to boost Ligonier Valley’s lead to 58-6.

Blairsville’s other touchdown came late in the fourth on a 42-yard pass from Ethan Kishlock to Cole Townsend after both coaches had pulled the majority of their starters.

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