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No down time for semifinalist Ligonier Valley

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 7:51 p.m.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Ligonier Valley's offensive line runs through plays during practice at Rossi Field inside the Greater Latrobe Athletic Complex, on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in Latrobe.

It's rare when Ligonier Valley football coach Roger Beitel gets overruled when it comes to his program, especially by the players. But he did Friday, and he was all right with it.

Beitel planned to give his players Monday off for the first day of deer season and to heal and rest after a physical game with Dunmore.

He joked with the media after Friday's PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal win against Dunmore, which is nicknamed the Bucks, that the team should practice Monday because “they've already tagged out and slain enough Bucks” after Ligonier Valley's 39-19 victory.

But the team captains informed Beitel on the trip home they preferred to practice.

The Rams (14-0) were on the practice field as usual at 3:30 p.m. preparing for their semifinal against District 4 champ and perennial power Southern Columbia. The teams will play at 7 p.m. Friday at Bald Eagle Area.

Because of muddy conditions at Weller Field, practice was moved to the turf surface at Latrobe High School.

“Getting overridden on a decision doesn't happen very often,” Beitel said. “It tells you that they've bought into the system. They want to be prepared.

“They love playing football. They didn't want to change the routine. A lot of them didn't even go hunting.”

Instead, the Rams were lifting weights and preparing for their next challenge.

Southern Columbia (14-0) has made it to the state championship game 14 times and has won seven state titles. It defeated Aliquippa, 49-14, to win the 2015 Class 2A title. The other PIAA appearances came in Class A.

The Tigers graduated 25 players from that championship team, but legendary coach Jim Roth (395-62-2) turned to his team's youth and they haven't missed a beat.

Last week, the Tigers used a kickoff return, a long pass and a defensive score to defeat Schuylkill Haven, 20-5. It was their 30th consecutive win.

No hunting for Roger

Beitel, 91-49 in his Ligonier Valley tenure, didn't go hunting, either.

He spent his weekend and Monday studying Southern Columbia's offensive and defensive trends.

“No, I've hunted my whole life. I let the big buck run free this year,” Beitel said. “I'll prepare for something that I may never get a chance to be in that opportunity again.”

High-scoring Tigers

Southern Columbia has a high-powered offense that averages 48.6 points and features two 1,000-yard runners and a quarterback who has thrown for 1,877 yards.

The leading rusher is freshman Gaige Garcia, who has gained 1,756 yards and scored 30 times. Senior Hunter Thomas, an all-state player in 2015, has rushed for 1,190 yards and scored 23 times. He returned the opening kickoff for a score last week.

Sophomore quarterback Stone Hollenbach is 90 for 137 with 22 touchdowns. Hollenbach transferred from Lewisburg in the offseason.

Freshman Julian Fleming has 31 catches for 833 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is ranked No. 4 in the state for yards in Class 2A behind Ligonier Valley sophomore Aaron Tutino, who is No. 1, with 52 catches for 1,075 yards and 17 touchdowns.

“They run the wing-T and run it well,” Beitel said. “They have great balance, which makes it tough to defend.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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