Westmoreland H.S. football notebook: Ligonier Valley finding home in WPIAL

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Saturday, September 11, 2021 | 6:06 PM


Ligonier Valley might have a WPIAL membership like all of the other football teams in District 7. Member since: 2020.

But the Rams are missing a couple of things many of those other schools have: artificial turf and home games.

One of the few teams left in Westmoreland County with a natural grass field, the Rams lose out on precious practice time when the weather turns sour.

Not that Weller Field has had to keep the lights on much lately.

“I have been impressed with our kids’ resiliency to overcome any obstacles thrown their way,” Rams coach Roger Beitel said. “Losing practice time due to excessive mud and water, playing on the road what seems like every week — we’ve had two home games out of the last 10 competitions — and all the other distractions associated with playing sports the last 18 months. Through it all, they have hung together, and that says a lot about our 12 seniors.”

These aren’t excuses. They’re facts. But Ligonier Valley has persevered in the form of a 3-0 start in the second season of its return to the WPIAL.

Ligonier Valley and Kiski Area are the only Westmoreland County teams with 3-0 marks.

The Rams opened with a 20-14 win over Class 4A Indiana, then turned some heads with a 26-14 win at Elizabeth Forward, the returning WPIAL 3A runner-up.

Their return home was met with little resistance Friday night as they thumped hobbled Jeannette, 55-0.

After just two home games last season in a tour-of-Italy type of schedule that saw them play in six counties, the tide will turn in the Rams’ favor. They play five more at Weller Field this year.

Known for a big-play offense, Ligonier Valley has stood tall defensively so far.

“We feel that we have our starting 11 in roles that best fit their abilities,” Beitel said. “Our defense has been the difference … They have made a lot of big plays.”

Ligonier Valley caught on quickly to WPIAL football last season, finishing 4-3, including a wild 53-48 win over Shady Side Academy in the season finale. Remember, though, that Rams team had only one senior and no freshmen.

This year, 21 starters came back and could have the Rams ready for a playoff run.

Junior dual-threat quarterback Haden Sierocky has been effective, with senior Nick Beitel a key cog at running back, and other skill guys such as Matthew Marinchak and Grant Dowden adding to the offensive flow.

Senior safety Ryan Harbert has been busy on defense, recording a 16-tackle game. He is a standout wrestler who knows how to wrap people up.

Senior Jude Grzywinski is a mainstay at center.

Coach Beitel said one of the biggest differences he sees in WPIAL football compared to District 6 and the Heritage Conference is teams can score on any play, from anywhere.

“Games are decided on the ability to make splash plays and prevent splash plays. You seldom see long sustained drives,” he said. “Defensive coaches do a great job of presenting different coverages and schemes, especially blitz packages.”

Hail Caesar

Hempfield junior tailback Gino Caesar had a third quarter and second half to remember Friday night in the Spartans’ 30-28 win over Franklin Regional.

In the third, Caesar ran 20 times for 128 yards and a touchdown. He finished with 215 yards on 39 carries, by far career highs in both. He scored two touchdowns and had a pair of 2-point conversions.

It was shades of Nate Roby at Spartan Stadium.

“I didn’t even play running back last year,” said Caesar, wearing a headband with the word “Battle” on it. “My line played great.”

Hempfield coach Mike Brown wants his team to be balanced, but the Spartans looked every bit the part of a running team in the second half Friday, daring the Panthers to stop them.

“I challenged our linemen,” Brown said. “I challenged them to come out and play physical and ready to win the game. They did that.

“We want to be able to play smashmouth football. Gino was great tonight and our line really stepped up.”

Binakonsky leads defense

Hempfield’s offense grabbed the headlines, but its defense played with an edge Friday. Junior linebacker Eli Binakonsky had two sacks and blocked a punt and returned it 20 yards for touchdown.

Lineman Daniel Sierk also had two sacks, and Tyson Gregory and Daniel Katonka intercepted passes.

Binakonsky had a 29-yard interception return touchdown against Greensburg Salem in the opener.

Fetter out

Latrobe played without quarterback Bobby Fetter on Friday night, and the Wildcats (1-2) will likely be without the senior for an extended period of time.

Fetter is out for at least six weeks with a dislocated shoulder, coach Jason Marucco confirmed.

Senior Brayden Reott will be his replacement.

The dual-threat Fetter had surgery in the past to repair the left shoulder, which he had separated three times previously.

Brewer does it all

Latrobe running back Kyle Brewer has been one of the more versatile touchdown scorers in the WPIAL. The senior, who leads the county in scoring, has nine touchdowns, and he has scored them three ways.

He has a 72-yard punt return, five rushing scores and three TD receptions. One run went for 67 yards in Friday’s 35-27 loss to Kiski Area, and he has a 50-yard catch.

Highlight catch

Amari Mack was in the right spot to make a one-handed grab of a pass from backup quarterback Tyree Turner Friday in Greensburg Central Catholic’s 33-7 win at Apollo-Ridge.

Turner eluded a defender, escaping his grasp, and tossed downfield to Mack, who leapt and made the catch with his left hand and went 32 yards for a touchdown.

GCC (2-1) had a defensive and special teams touchdowns — a fumble recovery by Taishaun Jamison, and a blocked punt score by Ryan Kimmel.

Extra points

Jeannette has been outscored 177-0 in three games. … Monessen broke a nine-game losing streak with its 24-6 win over Charleroi. … Yough sophomore Terek Crosby is back playing for Yough. He initially did not choose to play this season so he could focus on basketball but changed his mind and rejoined the Cougars last week. … Norwin posted its first shutout since 2018 on Friday when it blanked Connellsville, 37-0. … Continuing a tradition of female kickers, Yough senior Hannah Biros is handling the kicking duties this season for the Cougars. … Ten Westmoreland teams have winning records through three weeks.

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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