Rams bow out of playoffs in 1st round
After grabbing the last spot in the District 6 playoffs, the Ligonier Valley football team was out-gunned by top-seeded Richland High School, losing 46-6.
Head coach Roger Beitel played with the majority of his starters out with injury, including tight end Alec Bloom, who underwent a successful knee surgery last week.
Richland went on a nine-play, 60-yard scoring drive on the opening play of the game, which culminated in a 4-yard rushing touchdown, and a two-point conversion. From there Richland added 38 more points to the tally before Ligonier could answer.
The Rams broke the shutout in the third quarter with a seven-play, 75-yard drive. Dereck Croyle carried the ball the final 5 yards to score with 4:03 left in the quarter. On the two-point conversion attempt, Ligonier ran a trick play that left Jordan Jones wide open for a lob pass by Scott Fennell, but was unable to bring it in.
“I believe that we had a lot of plays there, we just didn't make them. That comes with youth and inexperience,” Beitel noted. “We made a lot of plays against a really good football team. We just had some bad breaks. We gave up a score early, and we are in awe of the number three team in the state. We answer by taking the ball and driving down the field, and we get an unfortunate tip off a ball and they take it and return it for six the other way.”
On Ligonier's first offensive drive of the game, Richland intercepted a Fennell pass intended for Trent Stewart and returned the ball 60 yards for a touchdown and a 15-0 lead. Another Fennell interception led Richland to a 56-yard drive and another touchdown on an 11-yard pass play.
A turnover on downs to begin the second quarter gave the ball back to Richland, who moved the ball into position to kick a 33-yard field goal. Richland then forced a Ligonier punt, which was caught by Richland's Matt Shafer and pitched to Kyle Flick for an 83-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 32-0 lead.
Richland scored once more before the half, intercepting a third Fennell pass to set up a 53-yard drive. On a direct snap, running back Ben Verhovsek carried the ball six yards for the touchdown and the 39-0 lead at the half. Richland's final score of the game was a three-play, 44-yard drive ending with a 35-yard rushing touchdown. Ligonier ended the game stopping Richland on the two yard line, recovering a fumble and preventing another score.
Beitel noted that his young team received invaluable experience from the game and commended them for the way they battled through the hardships of injury and losing four straight games after winning six.
“It's not where we wanted to be ultimately at this point in the season, but we were able to do what every team sets as their goal at the beginning of the season and that's to qualify for the playoffs,” Beitel said. “Every time we lost a kid, we got another one ready. Our coaches did a great job of doing that and maintaining their composure, getting the next kid ready. I can't speak enough about the job our coaching staff did. If you look at the adversity we went through I don't think there are very many schools around that have gone through what we went through. But we never made an excuse about it. We just kept forging forward, and that's the most important lesson that I our kids can take from this. This is life. Life knocks you down, you keep getting back up and our kids got up.”
Peter Turcik is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.