Ligonier Valley has long, strange trip to WPIAL football quarterfinals

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Saturday, November 12, 2022 | 4:51 PM


Ligonier Valley football players sat quietly in the pitch black of a locker room with no power Friday night at Reeves Field on the campus of Geneva College.

“When it’s game time, I take all their cell phones,” Rams coach Roger Beitel said. “So they were sitting in the dark with nothing to do. It was strange.”

The Rams had a night to remember in their first trip to the WPIAL quarterfinals, and it had nothing to do with the final score against Beaver Falls.

The power went out after a tree fell and caused a transformer fire near the stadium just 20 minutes before kickoff, forcing officials to move the game to nearby Blackhawk rather than endure the estimated two-hour wait for power to be restored.

The players had warmed up in the heavy rain and were set to take the turf field for the Class 2A game when the stadium lights went dark.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Beitel said. “It must be something with us and Beaver County. We won’t forget this night.”

Ligonier Valley lost a first-round game last year at South Side Beaver and made another two-plus-hour trip to Beaver County on Friday.

Beaver Falls, the No. 2 seed, won the game 52-0.

“Ligonier Valley came a long way,” Beaver Falls athletic director Jim Carbone said. “They don’t need to go all the way home and come back tomorrow.”

There was talk of playing the game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Ellwood City. But heads-up game personnel acted quickly to secure another site and get everyone packed up and off to the new venue, just five miles from Geneva.

A logistical nightmare on the surface turned into a seamless move from one site to another, a minor miracle when considering the playoff crowd and steady rain.

The teams, cheerleaders, bands and umbrella-wielding fans packed up and drove to Blackhawk without so much as a peep.

Still, the wild night had the Rams trying to get settled. They chose to stay on the field at halftime — behind the east end zone — instead of walking a long way across the Blackhawk campus to a locker room.

The third-year WPIAL members remained gracious in defeat.

“All the credit goes to all the people involved with getting the game here so fast,” Beitel said. “They pulled it off, and everything really went well. We definitely didn’t want to come back (Saturday).”

Beitel had plans to watch his sons, Zach and Nick, play for Washington & Jefferson Saturday at Waynesburg.

Said Beaver Falls coach Nick Nardone: “Hats off to Blackhawk. They stepped up and let us play here.”

Blackhawk athletic director Zack Hayward was home painting when he put down his brush and drove to the stadium to help get things in order.

“Jimmy (Carbone) has always looked out for me,” Hayward said. “You never know when something like this is going to happen. I know he would do the same for us. We’re rivals, but we’re always willing to help each other out.”

While Ligonier Valley was limited offensively and had aspects of its gameplan crossed out early — too many big plays, not enough possession and a couple of turnovers — there was a positive.

“I thought John Jablunovsky was a bright spot for us,” Beitel said. “He has shown a lot of ability for a sophomore. John was a bright spot tonight.”

Jablunovsky broke up several passes thrown by Tigers’ standout Jaren Brickner.

Ligonier Valley, which finished 8-4 and was one of only three Westmoreland County teams to make the quarterfinals, had one of the closest teams in Beitel’s 19-year tenure.

“I am proud of this team with our collection of characters,” he said. “We had so many questions at the beginning of the year. We gritted our way to eight wins.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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