Homer-Center hopes to end Ligonier Valley's dominant run
In eastern Westmoreland County, the Ligonier Valley has an historic fort, two renowned golf courses and second-to-none recreational attractions.
It also features one of the best high school football teams in the state.
Ligonier Valley is ranked sixth in the state in Class 2A by Pennlive.com after starting the season 6-0 overall and in the District 6 Heritage Conference.
The Rams feature a defense that has posted five consecutive shutouts, allowed only six points and given up only 316 yards of offense.
“I had defenses that allowed 314 yards in a game,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “These guys take pride in keeping opponents out of the end zone.”
Ligonier Valley, on paper, will face its toughest test of the season Friday in Homer City when it takes on undefeated Homer-Center (6-0, 6-0) in a first-place showdown in the Heritage Conference.
Homer-Center is one of the top Class A teams in District 6 and is ranked No. 8 in the state. The Wildcats lost to Bishop Guilfoyle in the district finals last season.
They hope to keep up with the Rams, who have won 16 straight games, including 14 by more than 35 points, invoking the mercy rule in all six contests this season.
“Ligonier Valley really impresses me, and Roger and his staff have done a great job preparing them,” said Homer-Center coach Greg Page, who played for his father, Jerry, at Laurel Valley. “I just hope we represent ourselves better than we did last year.
“They have a great scheme and put their players in good positions. They do a good job protecting their linebackers.”
Both teams entered last year's meeting undefeated, but the Rams rolled to a 50-0 victory.
Beitel said he expects a tougher game on the road.
“They are very disciplined and have older players like us,” Beitel said. “They are similar to us, with a lot of seniors. They're not going to flinch.
“Homer-Center will play with a lot of emotion, and they're going to honor the 1977 championship team. We have to play our game.”
Beitel and his staff have been preparing the defense for multiple offensive looks from the Wildcats.
“They like to pound the ball between the tackles,” Beitel said. “We need to stop their running game.”
Ligonier Valley senior lineman Jake Neiderhiser added: “They're a really good team. They're undefeated for a reason, and they have a great history in their program. We're working hard, and we have to go out and execute.”
Homer-Center features a trio of running backs who have rushed for more than 235 yards — Bassa McCracken (70 carries, 575 yards, 8 touchdowns); Jesse Lee (74-498-11) and Matt Miles (41-236-1).
Quarterback Ben Schmidt has completed 37 of 61 passes for 654 yards and three touchdowns.
“When you play against a team that good, sure, you do some things different,” Page said. “But you really stick to what you do best. We know it's going to be tough.”
The leading tackler on the Ligonier Valley defense is senior Joey Dubics, who has 52 tackles, five for losses.
“Winning is never boring,” Dubics said. “It's fun to dominate everybody, but we still have a lot to work on. Just because we beat everybody by as much as we do doesn't mean we're perfect. No one is perfect.”
Dubics said Friday's game is another challenge.
“We take every game the same,” Dubics said. “Every one is a state championship game to us. We just prepare and perform.”
Like the defense, the Rams offense has been impressive, despite losing sophomore quarterback Sam Sheeder for the season because of a leg injury.
Junior John Caldwell and senior Jackson Daugherty are sharing the duties, which forced Homer-Center to prepare for different styles. Caldwell is more of a passer, and Daugherty is a dual-threat.
Caldwell has completed 22 of 32 passes for 529 yards and five touchdowns, and Jackson is 11 of 14 for 239 yards and five touchdowns. Junior Aaron Tutino is the top receiver with 26 catches for 612 yards and 10 touchdowns. Daugherty has 15 catches for 343 yards and four scores.
Senior Aaron Sheeder leads the running attack with 435 yards and five touchdowns, and Daugherty has gained 440 yards and scored eight times.
“I like what I've seen from John,” Page said. “But Jackson does both well. They're tough to defend.”