NORTHERN CAMBRIA - The Colts' chances of winning the 2012 Heritage Conference title slipped away Friday at Duffy Daugherty Memorial Stadium as Northern Cambria fell to Ligonier Valley, 36-26, in their conference finale.
While all it would take was a victory over the Rams (8-1) to clinch the conference crown, it became an uphill battle for the Colts (6-3) shortly after opening kickoff.
Northern Cambria found itself in a 14-0 hole only just over three minutes into the first quarter. Ligonier Valley scored on its first drive, then recovered a fumble inside the Colt 20-yard line, scoring two plays later.
"You can't make the mistakes we made tonight against a team like this," said Northern Cambria coach Paul Taranto. "If we make less mistakes, we're capable of beating most people. Ligonier Valley's not one of those people. You give them an inch, and they take it over. They get a chance to step on you, they'll put you away. "
The two teams traded punches from that point on, but when the Colts came close to cutting the Rams' lead, more turnovers halted their progress. Northern Cambria quarterback Jeff Hogan threw two second-half interceptions on long pass attempts that would help seal his team's fate.
"It's one of those things, what do you do?" Taranto said. "Do you run the ball and push a score and make it look good? Or do you go for the dunk? We were playing for a Heritage Conference championship. You go for it."
Instead, it was the running game that put all the Colts' points on the board. Senior running back Nate Zachesky scored three of his team's four touchdowns in the losing effort and finished with 108 yards on 19 carries. Hogan ran in the other touchdown late in the third quarter.
While the Northern Cambria backs did all they could to keep pace, it was the Ligonier running game that took the spotlight, recording 224 of their 348 total yards on the ground. Senior Ryan Torrance returned to the backfield last night after serving a one-game suspension last week against Homer-Center due to an incident in the previous week's match-up with Penns Manor.
Torrance piled up 167 yards on 32 carries for three touchdowns. His second play from scrimmage went for 55 yards, setting up his own 2-yard score the next play.
"It felt nice to get some guys in front of me and just start running," Torrance said. "Practice just isn't the same. You've got to be under the lights on Friday night. Nothing's better than that."
Even though the Rams missed out on the conference title, too, they entered Northern Cambria last night with the goal of defending last year's championship as long as they could.
"We were coming in here and going to defend our championship all the way to the very end," said Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel.
The Colts must pick up a win next week against Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference opponent Cambria Heights, a rivalry game which hasn't been played in years.
"Luckily for us," Taranto said, "we picked Cambria Heights for one of the best teams they've had in years."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Ligonier Valley14 8 7 7 - 36
Northern Cambria6 6 6 8 - 26
LV-Torrance 2 run (Grimm kick), 10:21
LV-Torrance 10 run (Grimm kick), 8:54
NC-Zachesky 9 run (pass failed), 0:22
LV-Fennell 7 run (Fennell run), 9:29
NC-Zachesky 3 run (run failed), 0:56
LV-Fennell 6 run (Grimm kick), 3:15
NC-Hogan 1 run (run failed), 2:15
LV-Torrance 4 run (Grimm kick), 8:44
NC-Zachesky 1 run (Zachesky run), 2:29
RUSHING: Ligonier Valley-Torrance 32-167, Fennell 10-53, Croyle 3-8, Elliot 1-(-2), Team 2-(-2). Northern Cambria-Zachesky 19-108, Suchar 12-73, Bearer 4-31, Baker 1-1, Hogan 2-0, Team 1-(-4).
PASSING: Ligonier Valley-Fennell 5-8-0-124. Northern Cambria-Hogan 3-9-0-47.
RECEIVING: Ligonier Valley-Bloom 2-80, Case 1-23, Gaynor 1-12, Waugh 1-9. Northern Cambria-Suchar 1-27, Polites 2-17, Zachesky 1-3.
INTERCEPTIONS: Ligonier Valley-Fennell, Gaynor. Northern Cambria-Hogan.