Smith leads Ligonier Valley to 1st PIAA victory
WINGATE — Ligonier Valley found itself in unfamiliar territory Friday in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal game at Bald Eagle.
The Rams trailed for the first time this season in their first PIAA playoff game.
Instead a wilting under the pressure, Ligonier Valley responded in a big way.
Senior quarterback Collin Smith, who threw two second-quarter interceptions, bounced back with two touchdown passes in the final 3 minutes, 2 seconds of the first half, and Ligonier Valley (14-0) pulled away for a dominating 39-19 victory against Dunmore (13-1), the No. 2-ranked team in the state.
The Rams will play the winner of Saturday's game between Southern Columbia and Schuylkill Haven at a time, date and site to be determined.
“Once we got Collin calm, he's a great player, and I think he was trying to do too much,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “Once he made some tremendous throws, it was all over.”
After Smith's rare interceptions, Ligonier Valley was able grab a 23-13 lead at halftime as he connected with Jackson Daugherty for touchdown passes of 15 and 7 yards after Dunmore took a 13-10 lead.
“We got hit in the mouth,” Ligonier Valley tackle Jake Neiderhiser said. “Once we weathered the storm, we settled down. Coach tells us there is always going to be ups and downs. I'm so proud of my brothers.”
Ligonier Valley's defense recovered two fumbles after Dunmore had taken the lead.
The second was when Dunmore's Colin Holmes fumbled after getting hit by Aaron Tutino. Linebacker Elijah Parrish scooped up the loose ball and returned it 11 yards to the Dunmore 14.
Three plays later, Smith found Daugherty in the back of the end zone for his second score.
“If we were going to win, we had to put up 39 points to win,” Beitel said. “The defense did a great job. We kept it simple, and they learned what they had to do to stop their power running game.”
Dunmore was averaging 273 yards per game on the ground. The Rams limited the Bucks to 162.
Ligonier Valley scored on its first two possessions. Smith connected with Trent Stewart for 41 yards on the Rams' first offensive play of the game. Kobe Short finished off the drive with a 21-yard field goal.
Smith scored on a 6-yard run later in the first quarter to make it 10-0.
Colin Holmes' 39-yard touchdown run cut the lead to 10-7.
In the second half, the Rams scored on their first three possessions.
Short drilled his second field goal of the game, a 26-yarder.
Daugherty caught his third touchdown pass from Smith from 6 yards, and Daugherty's interception in the third quarter set up Smith for a 35-yard scoring strike to Trent Hepner.
Smith was 24 of 38 for 287 yards and four touchdowns. Daugherty caught 12 passes for 143 yards, and Aaron Tutino had eight catches for 75 yards.