Northern Cambria running game to provide test for Ligonier Valley

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018 | 7:21 PM


This game has been circled on the schedules for the Ligonier Valley and Northern Cambria football teams since it was released in the spring.

And it’s the game fans of the District 6 Heritage Conference have been waiting for.

They want to know if Northern Cambria, the team two Heritage Conference coaches picked to win the conference, can dethrone the Rams, who enter the contest with a conference-record 26-game winning streak.

Ligonier Valley (7-1, 7-1), which is ranked No. 2 in the state in Class 2A, will host Northern Cambria (6-1, 6-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Weller Field in a first-place showdown. It’s the unofficial kickoff to Ligonier Days.

“It should be a good one,” Northern Cambria coach Sam Shutty said. “We have a bunch of players who know what this game is all about. They’ve played against Ligonier Valley the past three games and know they have to elevate their game.

“Ligonier Valley is really good and has a lot of depth. That’s something we don’t have as much.”

The Colts are led by four four-year starters: tackle Zach Malicky, quarterback Mark Marino, running back Logan Onkist and tackle Nicholas Sifford.

They also have seven three-year starters, including running back Ben Vasil, who has rushed for 848 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Colts average 357.1 rushing yards per game. Onkist has rushed for 778 yards and nine scores, and Marino has rushed for 434 yards and 10 scores.

“They want to run the football,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “They are big, strong and old. A lot are three- and four-year starters. This is something they’ve wanted for a long time. They have ungodly rushing numbers.”

Northern Cambria did, however, stumble in Week 4, losing a turnover- and penalty-plagued game at Marion Center, 28-12. The Colts have rebounded with wins against Homer-Center, 38-8, and Blairsville, 39-8.

“That was a tough week,” Shutty said of the loss. “I don’t want to take away anything from Marion Center. We’ve grown as a team from that game, and we’ll be ready.”

Ligonier Valley is coming off a 49-27 victory against Marion Center in a game where the starters sat in the second half. The Rams are averaging 51.5 points and are led by the passing attack of quarterback John Caldwell and all-state wide receiver Aaron Tutino, who is tied for the state record for career touchdown receptions (54).

Caldwell has completed 79 of 111 passes for 1,371 yards and 25 touchdowns. Tutino has 36 catches for 706 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Junior Sam Sheeder has 20 catches for 339 yards and five touchdowns.

But Ligonier Valley doesn’t just rely on the passing game. Junior running back Kyrie Miller has rushed for 677 yards and nine touchdowns. He had six carries for 112 yards against Marion Center.

“You have to look at what we have up front,” Miller said. “We have some guys making big plays for me. I can’t run the ball if they’re not blocking. They’re doing a tremendous job.”

One of those players is senior guard Blake Bridge. He’s part of a line that includes juniors Mike Petrof, Alex Torrance and Christian Jablonski and freshman Jude Grzywinski.

Bridge is looking forward to the challenge of facing Northern Cambria’s big line that includes Sifford, Malicky, Joe Rezk and Joe Wagner.

“We have to continue to do what we do,” Bridge said. “We have to work through their line and make plays. We’re confident in our ability.”

Beitel said getting a lead is one of the keys. The Colts don’t like to throw the ball, and the Rams would like to see them try.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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