Ligonier Valley pulls out thrilling win vs. Shady Side Academy

Friday, October 22, 2021 | 11:06 PM

Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel joked he will need to visit his cardiologist after watching the last 24 seconds of Friday’s game against Shady Side Academy.

If the emotions of the final sequence were measured, they probably would look like sharp, jagged lines on a heart monitor.

The Rams went from a potential game-ending kneel down, to a botched snap leading to a fumble that was knocked backwards 20 yards, picked up by Shady Side Academy’s Isaiah Beckham and returned 60 yards for a touchdown, to shaking it off and stopping a potential winning 2-point conversion.

Ligonier Valley’s Jude Grzywinski tackled Max Wickland, who was deemed down short of the goal line by inches on the 2-point try, preserving a 26-25 victory over Shady Side Academy in a crucial Class 2A Allegheny Conference game at Michael J. Farrell Stadium.

“We almost took a game from the jaws of victory to the agony of defeat in 24 seconds,” Beitel said. “Wow. What a game. What a win. Our kids made the play at the end to secure a victory, and that’s all that really matters.”

The win moved the Rams (7-2, 2-2) into sole possession of third place in the conference standings, and they can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Apollo-Ridge next Friday. Shady Side Academy (4-5, 1-3) still is alive through the possibility of a three-way tie for the third and final playoff spot.

After the botched snap that led to the unexpected score by Shady Side Academy, the Bulldogs immediately lined up to go for 2 and the win, but Ligonier Valley called timeout.

The Bulldogs didn’t hesitate and returned to the field aiming to win it.

“We went with the same call,” Shady Side Academy coach Chuck DiNardo said. “We had something that we really liked for the 2-pointer and got the look we wanted. We ended up a couple inches short, but that’s the game of football.”

Nick Beitel came up and made the initial hit on Wickland, but Grzywinski made sure Wickland went down. It was a big moment for the senior, who has started every game since ninth grade.

“I saw the quarterback went to the right a little bit, and it came down to go or don’t go and I just went for it,” Grzywinski said. “It paid off in the end. It was pretty close. I’ll admit that much.”

Ligonier Valley won a wild 53-48 game last year, but Friday’s contest might have topped it.

Joey Belinotti returned the opening kickoff 87 yards for a score on the first play of the game. Then the Rams scored 26 unanswered highlighted by a pair of touchdown runs by Hayden Sierocky.

Brodereck Schreyer threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Khorter Drury on Ligonier Valley’s opening drive.

The Rams held a 26-6 lead in the final minute of the first half, but Isaiah Beckham picked off a screen pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 26-12.

“Isaiah Beckham made a great play, and that gave us a huge spark of life that our team needed,” DiNardo said. “It was nice to carry that into halftime.”

Chris Sullivan scored on a 10-yard run early in the fourth quarter to cut the Rams lead to seven.

Sierocky finished on 126 yards on 26 carries to lead all rushers.

The Rams have battled through a litany of injuries and even had to forfeit a game earlier this season to Serra Catholic because of lacking healthy players, but they’ve come out the other side controlling their own playoff fate next Friday.

“With everything we’ve gone through, for us to be in a position to control our own destiny for making the playoffs is a testament to our kids and this coaching staff to keep everything together throughout this crazy season,” Beitel said. “Last year the covid season wasn’t as crazy as this one. It’s hard to believe, but that one was more normal.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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