Young, inexperienced Ligonier Valley to be tested in Class 2A Allegheny

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Friday, September 4, 2020 | 10:53 PM


A new chapter in Ligonier Valley history starts Sept. 11.

Ligonier Valley returns to the WPIAL after spending the past 50 years playing football in District 6, including the past five seasons as one of the most dominant teams in Class 2A.

The Rams went 60-7 over the span, including a 51-4 mark the past four years. They reached the District 6 Class 2A title game four consecutive seasons, winning in 2016 and ’17. Also during that span, the Rams won four Appalachian Bowl titles against WestPAC opponents. They won 37 consecutive conference games.

The return to WPIAL competition will be challenging.

There will be new opponents, new travel times and a new way to make the playoffs. New rivalries will be forged, and there will be a chance to play at Heinz Field (under normal circumstances) if they are lucky enough to reach the championship game.

Ligonier Valley, which played in the Class B Alle-Fay-West Conference (1964-67) against the likes of Trafford (Penn-Trafford), South Huntingdon (Yough), West Newton (Yough), Edgewood (Woodland Hills), Frazier and Dunbar (Connellsville), now will battle Apollo-Ridge, Serra Catholic, Shady Side Academy, Steel Valley and Summit Academy (not participating in 2020). Frazier is a nonconference game Sept. 18.

The loss of Summit Academy, a nonconference game at Jeannette and an open date forced Ligonier to look for a couple of opponents. The Rams added Western Beaver (Sept. 26) and Waynesburg (Oct. 16) to the schedule.

“We just want to play games,” coach Roger Beitel said after he was faced with a possible five-game schedule when the WPIAL altered the original schedule and pushed back the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ligonier Valley lost a home season opener against Indiana and another home game in Week 1 with Elizabeth Forward.

The Elizabeth Forward game was changed to a scrimmage, but a possible covid-19 case at EF forced a cancellation. Ligonier Valley managed to schedule a scrimmage with South Allegheny.

Ligonier Valley returns to the WPIAL with a young squad that includes two returning offensive starters and one defensive starter. Because of an injury, the only senior on the roster is lineman Derek Fox.

The Rams graduated 16 seniors, including 11 who went on to play college football. Included in the group were NCAA Division I linemen Michael Petrof (Navy), Christian Jablonski (Lehigh) and Wylie Spiker (St. Francis, Pa.).

“This is a new chapter for our players,” Beitel said. “While we only have three starters returning, a lot of players saw playing time when games got out of hand.”

The offensive starters are junior center Jude Grzywinski and junior wide receiver Matt Marinchak. Beitel’s son, Nick, a junior, is a returning defensive back. Grzywinski has started in 26 games the past two seasons.

“We thought about moving Jude, but I asked around to some college coaches, and they said you want to build from the middle,” Beitel said. “You do that in baseball, soccer and hockey. I feel we have players who are capable to build around him.”

Beitel said he was pleased how his players handled the pandemic and how they worked out on their own.

Grzywinski is a lot stronger, and Nick Beitel, who scored 12 touchdowns and rushed for 642 yards in a mop-up role, is faster and stronger. Marinchak caught 26 passes for 453 yards and eight touchdowns.

“Our expectations aren’t going to change,” Beitel said. “The reality of the situation, we’re relatively young. One senior on the team, and Derek has only participated in one camp. He didn’t play as a freshman and was injured last year.

“There is a big difference between seniors because they have a sense of finality and urgency and they bring that every day. Young kids are often talented, but they don’t have that same sense of urgency.”

And the move to the WPIAL isn’t the only thing Beitel has to deal with. He’s got new offensive and defensive coordinators and several other new assistant coaches.

“Our philosophy is love the kids up as best as we can, give them as much love and coaching as we can and make this team feel as much as a big family as possible,” Beitel said. “We’ve been extremely patient.

“It’s extremely important we get games in and we get experience for ourselves for not only this year but down the road. We have a very talented junior and sophomore group that need reps.”

Some players such as Miles Higgins and Grant Dowden got a lot of late-season playing time. Higgins started the last five games at linebacker. Dowden got experience in the secondary

“We’ll see if the young guys’ experience pays off,” Beitel said. “Depth is an issue and roster size is lower than I’m accustomed to. The kids have been great, and honestly, it’s been refreshing. Their attitudes have been fantastic. They show up and work. It’s a pleasure to coach them.”

Beitel said sophomore Hunter Sierocky has the edge over sophomore Broderick Schreyer at quarterback. Sierocky did get a little time at the position as a freshman, but Beitel said Schreyer has had a great summer.

Higgins will play tight end, and Beitel said Dowden will wear many hats on offense.

“We need to get him the ball in space,” Beitel said. “He’ll run the ball and be used in our passing game.”

Beitel said he’ll have to lean on his defense early in the season until the offense finds its groove. Some of the other key players include linebacker Jesse Turner and linemen Colin Smith and Kaden Faas.

Schedule

Coach: Roger Beitel

2019 record: 12-0, 9-0 in District 6 Heritage

All-time record: 218-275-9

Date, Opponent, time

9.11, at Apollo-Ridge*, 7

9.18, at Frazier, 7

9.26, at Western Beaver, 7

10.2, Steel Valley*, 7

10.9, at Serra Catholic*, 7

10.16, at Waynesburg, 7

10.23, Shady Side Academy*, 7

*Class 2A Allegheny Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Sam Sheeder*

108-177, 1,914 yards, 20 TDs

Receiving: John Beard*

48-765 yards, 7 TDs

Rushing: Kyrie Miller*

176-1,876 yards, 31 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Before leaving the WPIAL, the then-Ligonier Mounties played Franklin Regional, Trafford and Blairsville, which was a WPIAL member in 1969.

• The last time Ligonier Valley played a WPIAL team was in 2010 when it defeated Derry, 27-14. Ligonier and Derry Boro were rivals before 1969.

• The Rams’ recently graduated class went 51-4 over four seasons.

• When Ligonier left the WPIAL in 1969, it joined the Mountain Conference, which consisted of teams from Districts 5 and 6.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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