Ligonier Valley hopes to bounce back after disappointing, last-second loss
There was a time when Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel would allow a tough loss to linger for days.
But a near-death experience a few years ago has allowed Beitel to see life in a different perspective. Beitel suffered a heart attack in April 2011, four days after he turned 40.
That doesn't mean Beitel was totally pleased with Friday's stunning, 31-29 last-second loss to Penns Manor.
“We went from celebrating one of the biggest comebacks in school history to one of the worst losses,” Beitel said. “After watching the film and what transpired on the field, the coaches and the players know we were winners, but we have to accept the loss.”
After Ligonier Valley rallied to grab a 29-25 lead with 33 seconds left, Penns Manor drove 91 yards to win the District 6 Heritage Conference contest on the final play of the game.
A couple of missed tackles on the final play might have cost the Rams the conference title.
Ligonier Valley also started slowly and spotted Penns Manor a 12-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Rams turned the ball over three times in the first half, and the Comets' defense did a good job shutting down the running game, forcing Beitel to rely on the right arm of quarterback Scott Fennell.
“Now we have to rely on someone else,” Beitel said. “The players are fine. They're a resilient group. A true test of character is how you respond when you get knocked down.”
Ligonier Valley (6-1, 5-1) can tie for the conference title if it defeats Homer-Center on Friday and Homer-Center beats Penns Manor on Oct. 28.
But the Rams' task won't be easy.
Homer-Center (7-0, 6-0) returns a veteran group led by three four-year starters — fullback/linebacker Mike Newhouse, two-way tackle Cody Miller and tight end/defensive end Jim Bence — and six three-year starters, including quarterback Aaron Berezansky and lineman Bill Grozanick.
The Wildcats feature a strong running attack led by Newhouse, who rushed for 119 yards, and junior Ean Lee, who added 118, last week in a 38-12 win at Conemaugh Township. Berezansky was 6 for 8 for 105 yards last week.
“Their running backs are north-south runners with breakaway speed,” Beitel said. “And their quarterback and receivers are more dangerous than Penns Manor. It's going to be a challenge.”
Homer-Center coach Greg Page said trying to stop Ligonier Valley's 6-foot-7 tight end, Alec Bloom, will be an equal challenge.
“If you know any 6-6 defensive backs, send them our way,” Page said. “Bloom's extremely talented and when he extends his arms, he's well over 7 feet.
“He's one of many weapons they have. Their quarterback is outstanding and puts that ball on the button, and this will be the best defense we will have faced. We'll have to continue to play good defense and limit their opportunities.”
One way Homer-Center can do that is if it can control the ball on offense.
“That would be nice,” Page said. “Hopefully, we can eat up some clock and score a couple touchdowns.
“They like to throw the ball. They've been a running team in the past, but it would be nice to force them to throw.”
Bloom and Fennell had a huge game against Penns Manor. Fennell completed 18 of 36 passes for 268 and two touchdowns. Bloom caught 10 passes for 186 yards.
“Alec told me in the second half last week ‘get me the ball' and he took over the game,” Beitel said. “No one could deny him. He was double- and triple-teamed at times. Scott did a nice job getting the ball to him.”
One thing Beitel likes to do weekly with his team is make the game fun.
This week he's allowing each class to draw up plays and the best ones are used at practice during the week. During Friday's game, some of the plays may get used.
“We call it crazy play week,” Beitel said. “The plays are named after the player who designed it.
“We take football serious at Ligonier Valley, but we also want the players to realize it's just a game. I learned that after my heart attack.”