Ligonier Valley to rely on shutout defense in District 6 title game
When opposing coaches talk about Ligonier Valley's football team, the talk usually begins with quarterback Collin Smith and all the athletes the Rams have on offense.
Rarely is the defense mentioned prominently.
“They have no real weaknesses,” said Bishop McCort coach Brian Basile, a former Pittsburgh Power defensive coach who was hired in 2015. “It all revolves around the quarterback (Collin Smith). He's a really good athlete who has the ability to keep plays alive. They also have two great receivers.”
But if Ligonier Valley (12-0) wants to win its first District 6 title Friday against Bishop McCort (10-2), it will be because of the defense that has allowed only 30 points this season.
Ligonier Valley has set numerous school records on both side of the ball, and for posting 12 wins. But for some reason the defense doesn't always get its due.
The Rams have tallied seven shutouts, including three in a row, and 10 games resulted in the mercy rule (a 35-point advantage and a running clock in the second half). One of the wins was a forfeit against Blairsville and the other was a 41-12 win against Purchase Line in a downpour.
Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel used a baseball analogy of building his defense.
“Baseball teams are strong up the middle, so we adopted that mentality,” Beitel said. “It all starts with middle linebacker Elijah Parrish (111 tackles), who I feel is the most intimidating and dominant player in the (Heritage) conference. We strengthened the middle and worked out.
“Then there are defensive tackles Jake Neiderhiser, who is an animal, and freshman Michael Petrof. Jake and Michael create a lot of problems and keep blockers off Elijah. The other linebackers are Aaron Sheeder and Garrett Custer and then Collin at safety.”
Last week against Westmont Hilltop, Ligonier Valley's defense shutdown the Hilltoppers' vaunted running game which was averaging 273 yards. Defensive end Cole Peters (57 tackles) recovered three fumbles, and linebacker Joe Dubics (61 tackles) helped clog the middle.
“Westmont had some huge offensive linemen, and we forced them to come after us,” Beitel said. “We were able to collapse the holes and use our speed.”
Bishop McCort is the third team from the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference to challenge the Rams in the playoffs. Ligonier Valley blanked Cambria Heights, 37-0, in the quarterfinals.
The Crimson Crushers run a triple-option attack, led by quarterback Levi Cook and fullback Anthony Walters.
“The key is containing their fullback and quarterback,” Beistel said. “You can't allow them to run the option. We have to dictate where they go.”
Basile was hired after two consecutive 2-8 seasons. Things weren't going well during his first year. Bishop McCort was 1-6 heading into a game at Mansion Park against returning Class A PIAA champion Bishop Guilfoyle.
“Things didn't go well in the first half against Guilfoyle, and at halftime we talked about rededicating their approach,” Basile said. “We won the final two games. We put a plan in place and told them what it would take to turn things around.
“They bought into it, and we've won 12 of our next 14 games.”
Cook tossed two touchdown passes in a win against Bellwood-Antis in the semifinals and has run for 404 yards. Walters leads the ground attack with 760 yards.
Last week, Carnell Andrews returned from an injury and rushed for 128 yards and two scores.