Rams start fast, fail to rally late
HERSHEY — Even after watching a handful of regulars shuffle to the sidelines at various points of a hard-hitting contest, Ligonier Valley’s resourceful Rams still had a chance to win it at the end.
Yet when John Caldwell’s fourth-down pass inside the red zone fluttered to the turf, just a few inches away from his intended receiver, those flickering hopes were just about to be extinguished.
A few seconds later, a sparkling season was over.
Battered by injury throughout the 48-minute exercise, Ligonier Valley had a second straight trip to the PIAA Class AA semifinals derailed by District 2 champion Dunmore, as the Bucks claimed a 23-20 verdict Saturday afternoon at pleasant Hersheypark Stadium.
“They played with so much heart and determination, you can’t be any prouder of the kids,” Ligonier Valley head coach Roger Beitel said.
Gavin Darcy tossed a first-half touchdown pass to Noah O’Malley, while Frank Damiano and Cristian Buckley added scoring runs for a Bucks side (14-0) shrugged off an early 14-0 deficit by rattling off 23 unanswered points against the District 6-AA champions.
“We just told them to hang in there,” Dunmore head coach Jack Henzes said. “After a while we settled down and took advantage of some mistakes that they made.”
Dunmore also picked up a second-half safety when Kyle Harrity blocked a Sullivan Schueltz punt out of the end zone, a key play on special teams that snapped a 14-all deadlock.
Dunmore will meet District 4-AA champion Southern Columbia (14-0) sometime next weekend at a site and time to be determined.
Yet when Caldwell tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Sheeder with 6:18 to play, Beitel’s Rams (13-1) still had a chance to extend their season at least one more week.
Buoyed by a 23-yard toss to Schueltz and a fourth-down pass to Cage Dowden that covered 45 yards, Ligonier Valley was parked on the Dunmore 13 and threatening to score.
Unfortunately for the Rams, Caldwell was drilled by Tyler Overholtz following his throw to Dowden and remained on the sideline for a pair of ill-fated running plays that netted zero yards.
On third-and-10, Caldwell’s delivery to Schueltz was broken up by Steve Borgia, leaving the Rams with a choice – kick it or go for the first down and/or the win. Well, they went for it.
“They called timeout and gave us time to find out if Jackson Daugherty could give us one last play and he said yes,” Beitel said. “So we figured if he could gimp around, we could ice him up and let’s try to get this win. It just came down to that.”
And when Caldwell’s throw to Daugherty in the left corner of the end zone was slightly off the mark – Daugherty was shaken up late in the first half – the game essentially was over.
What really hurt the Rams was Daugherty had thrown a 20-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Tutino to open the scoring, then watched as Tutino returned an interception 47 yards that made it 14-0.
Like Daugherty, the speedy Tutino was out for much of the game. Daugherty had been the holder on Peter Stoll’s first two placements, making terrific plays just to put the ball on the tee.
Yet, even without those standout performers available for lengthy stretches, Ligonier Valley was right there at the end.
“We lost the game, but through what we battled in the second half, we found playmakers for next year,” Beitel said. “Again, the way that these kids pieced together the ability to be not only competitive, but almost be in a situation to win, I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Ligonier Valley 14 0 0 6 — 20
Dunmore 0 14 9 0 — 23
LV — Tutino 20 pass from Daugherty (Stoll kick), 3:54
LV — Tutino 47 interception return (Stoll kick), 3:33
D — Damiano 2 run (Rinaldi kick), 9:19
D — O’Malley 22 pass from Darcy (Rinaldi kick), 7:30
D — Safety, Harrity blocks Schueltz punt out of end zone, 6:49
D — Buckley 24 run (Rinaldi kick), 2:56
LV — Sheeder 11 pass from Caldwell (kick failed), 6:18
RUSHING: Ligonier Valley–Sheeder 13-43, Dubics 6-4, Daugherty 4-2, Caldwell 3-(-4), Tutino 3-(-12). Dunmore–Buckley 13-78, Damiano 12-57, Donvito 10-36, Borgia 1-6, Darcy 2-(-1), Team 1-(-2).
PASSING: Ligonier Valley–Caldwell 10-23-0-132, Daugherty 2-3-1-29. Dunmore–Darcy 5-10-2-82.
RECEIVING: Ligonier Valley–Schueltz 4-54, Sheeder 4-24, Daugherty 2-18, Dowden 1-45, Tutino 1-20. Dunmore–O’Malley 4-77, Borgia 1-5.
INTERCEPTIONS: Ligonier Valley–Tutino, Arnone. Dunmore–O’Malley.
TEAM STATISTICS LV D
First downs 9 12
Rushes-yards 29-33 39-174
Passing (comp.-att.- int.) 12-26-1 5-10-2
Yards passing 161 82
Total yards 194 256
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 4-35 5-32