Ligonier Valley opens District 6 playoffs with rout of West Shamokin

Saturday, November 2, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Ligonier Valley’s presumed final football game against a District 6 Heritage Conference opponent before joining the WPIAL next year ended much like the ones before it.

The Rams, without all-time leading rusher Kyrie Miller — out with a sprained ankle — skated to victory in their opener of the District 6 Class 2A playoffs with a 49-7 drubbing of West Shamokin in the quarterfinals Friday night at Ligonier’s Weller Field.

Sam Sheeder passed for 158 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 78 yards and another score to lead No. 2 seed Ligonier Valley (11-0), whose impending move to the WPIAL hinges on the approval from the District 6 Committee and the WPIAL Board of Control.

Sophomore Nick Beitel, starting in place of Miller, rushed for 107 yards and scored twice for Ligonier Valley, which advances to the semifinals Nov. 9 at home against the winner of Saturday night’s scheduled game between No. 3 Bellwood-Antis and No. 6 Cambria Heights.

Miller injured his ankle in the third quarter of Ligonier Valley’s 58-6 Appalachian Bowl victory over WestPAC champion Portage on Oct. 28.

Against West Shamokin, the Rams put up 35 second-quarter points to carry a 42-point advantage into halftime.

“Coming into the game with the backup tailback, we said, ‘Offensive line, do your job, and defense, do your job,’” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said, “and they did that tonight. They they set the tone early with the defensive touchdown.”

Defensive tackle Christian Jablonski pounced on a West Shamokin fumble in the end zone just 4 minutes into the game for Ligonier Valley, and the Rams were off to another rout, beating No. 7 West Shamokin (5-6) for a second time this season.

The Rams defeated the Wolves, 54-7, on Sept. 20 in a Heritage Conference regular-season game.

“You know what you’re up against,” West Shamokin coach Jon McCullough said. “I thought the first time we played them here, it wasn’t as bad. At playoff time, they turn it up another level. We just could not match their intensity, their level of play.”

Over the past four years, the Rams have sent every Heritage Conference regular-season game but one into the 35-point mercy rule mode. This game was no different.

The Ligonier Valley defense denied West Shamokin any first downs and held the Wolves to minus-22 total yards.

“They’re like a bunch of angry hornets,” McCullough said.

Ligonier Valley entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed behind top-seeded, defending champion Richland (10-0), which earned a quarterfinals-round bye. Richland, in a matchup of teams nicknamed Rams, defeated Ligonier Valley, 21-12, in the 2018 District 6 championship game at Mansion Park in Altoona.

“We’re getting to that point in the season that when you’ve got an offensive line like we have and you’ve got a defense like we have, it’ll take you a long way,” coach Beitel said. “Especially when it gets cold and hurts a little bit when you get blocked into the dirt.”

Beitel said he continually is impressed with his players’ maturity, an attribute that can work well at playoff time. His enthusiasm didn’t appear diminished by the Rams’ three turnovers. Ligonier Valley gave the ball away just six times during the regular season.

Jaiden Haswell’s 92-yard interception return produced West Shamokin’s only score.

“The backup kids came in (in the second half) and did a great job,” Beitel said. “West Shamokin didn’t get a first down all game. Hats off to the young guys as well. The standard is not going to change around here, whatever your position is going to be. We have the same expectations for you.”

Ligonier Valley graduates 15 seniors this year, among them Miller, who has gained 1,651 yards rushing this season and leads the school with 3,517 career yards; Sheeder; tight end/kicker-punter John Beard, who against West Shamokin had six receptions for 71 yards, including one for a 13-yard touchdown; and three Division I-bound linemen in Jablonski (Lehigh), Michael Petrof (Navy) and Wylie Spiker (St. Francis, Pa.).

Sheeder also threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Matthew Marinchak and scored on a 3-yard run, and Nick Beitel scored on runs of 13 and 28 yards and Ayden Kelley added a 2-yard TD run for Ligonier Valley.

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