Ligonier Valley defense to be tested by No. 1 Richland, WR Caleb Burke in District 6 title game

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Wednesday, November 13, 2019 | 6:01 PM


If Ligonier Valley wants to capture its third District 6 Class 2A football championship, containing Richland senior wide receiver Caleb Burke will be paramount.

No. 2 Ligonier Valley (12-0) will face No. 1 Richland (11-0) at 7 p.m. Friday at Mansion Park in Altoona. It’s the second consecutive season the teams will square off for the title. Richland won last year’s meeting, 21-12.

Burke, a New Hampshire recruit, broke the school’s single-game receiving yards record with 250 in last week’s 49-21 win over Penns Valley in the semifinals.

He has 56 catches for 1,157 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. Those statistics are similar to those of former Ligonier Valley wide receiver Aaron Tutino, who is now playing at St. Francis (Pa.).

“Caleb is so much better than he was in 2018,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “He’s a human highlight film. He takes over games and does amazing things. You can’t cover him with one guy.”

Richland coach Brandon Bailey agreed Burke is tough to defend.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Bailey said. “Every time we need to make a play, Caleb is involved.”

But in the 2018 championship game, it was then-freshman Kellan Stahl who came up big. He ripped off a 70-yard run on the first play of the game but it was called back.

He later ran for a touchdown and threw another as Richland defeated Ligonier Valley, 21-12.

He split time with senior Joe Hauser, who threw for 3,054 yards and 35 touchdowns.

“We used Kellan in the wildcat and at running back,” Bailey said. “He did have a good game against Ligonier Valley.”

Stahl only completed 2 of 3 passes in 2018. He’s completed 130 of 208 for 2,383 yards and 35 touchdowns this season.

“We graduated a lot of talent,” Bailey said. “We had a couple all-state players move on, and we’ve had a lot of players step up this season.”

The two all-state linemen who graduated were tackles Collin Instone (New Hampshire), and Dylan Dininny, who decided not to play in college.

Ligonier Valley also graduated talented players, including record-setting quarterback John Caldwell and state-record holding receiver Tutino.

The LV Rams are led by a talented offensive line that has paved the way for senior running back Kyrie Miller and quarterback Sam Sheeder.

Miller has rushed for 1,758 yards and 31 touchdowns and Sheeder, who has rushed for 574 yards, has completed 97 of 152 passes for 1,790 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Ligonier Valley didn’t play its best against Bellwood-Antis on Saturday and still won, 21-20. The Rams turned the ball over, committed too many turnovers and had numerous missed assignments.

“Bellwood played great, and we played our worst game of the season,” Beitel said of the win in the semifinals. “We have to clean things up. We had too many self-inflicted mistakes. We escaped and moved on.”

This group of Ligonier Valley seniors has been part of two District 6 titles and is 51-3 overall.

Bailey said he knows this has a chance to be an exciting game.

“I’m sure Roger will have a few new wrinkles for us,” Bailey said. “I have a ton of respect for Ligonier Valley.

“It’s going to become a chess match. I’m confident that it will come down to who executes better and takes care of the football.”

Beitel said what impresses him about Richland is its defense.

“It’s an underrated group,” Beitel said. “They are really good, and they don’t get enough credit. They are fast and athletic. Their linebackers explode into the backfield, and Stahl seems to be a ball magnet. They are No. 1 in District 6 for a reason.”

Ligonier Valley’s defense, led by linemen Gabe Gonda, Michael Petrof, Wylie Spiker and Christian Jablonski, also has its share of talent. The unit has allowed just 80 points this season, an average of 6.67 per game.

The top two teams in District 6 earned their spots in the championship game. Now, they just have to earn their reward — a district title and berth to the PIAA playoffs.

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

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