Blue Devils’ season ended by No. 2-seeded Rams
JOHNSTOWN — Needless to say, Ligonier Valley’s football team likes things in threes.
The program has captured three straight Heritage Conference championships, three straight Appalachian Bowl titles and entered Saturday’s District 6 Class AA semifinal game against Bellwood-Antis with the chance to clinch a third straight district title game appearance.
And in typical Rams fashion, they didn’t only hit another season goal on a chilly fall night, they did so with an exclamation point. Behind a stout defensive showing and plenty of big plays on offense, second-seeded Ligonier Valley rolled past the No. 3 Blue Devils, 34-7, at Greater Johnstown’s Trojan Stadium.
Next up for Ligonier Valley is top-seeded Richland Township in the district title game, to be played Nov. 16 or 17 at Altoona’s Mansion Park Stadium. Unbeaten Richland routed No. 4 Penns Valley, 59-7, Friday to set up an all-Rams final.
“To get a chance to go back again and defend your district title, that’s really all we wanted,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. ”
Another district title would put Ligonier Valley in some rare air. The last Class AA team to win three straight titles was Tyrone Area (1995-97), and the most recent D6 team in any classification to three-peat was Bishop Gulfoyle in Class A from (2014-16).
Saturday’s victory also improved the Rams to 12-0 and continued a remarkable run of success for its senior class, which has gone a combined 48-5 over the past four seasons.
While Ligonier Valley continues to pile up victories and points, its path to Altoona has been a bit different this time. Saltsburg, which won its first playoff game since 1991 and nearly beat Class A top seed Northern Cambria on Friday, forfeited its game earlier this year against the Rams. Ligonier Valley has also been forced to play postseason “home” games the past two weeks at Greensburg and Johnstown after recent wet weather made Weller Field unplayable.
It didn’t take long Saturday for Ligonier Valley to become comfortable with its new surroundings.
The Rams scored on the game’s first drive when Sam Sheeder pulled in a 47-yard touchdown catch from John Caldwell. On the play, Sheeder broke a tackle near the sideline at the 15 before racing into the end zone.
While Bellwood’s defense eventually stiffened the next drive — the Rams went 77 yards before they missed a field goal — Ligonier Valley struck again early in the second quarter on Sheeder’s 9-yard scoring run on a direct snap. The touchdown was set up by a Bellwood pass interference call and a 23-yard hookup from Caldwell to Sheeder.
The plays were part of a huge game for Sheeder, who tallied a game-high nine catches for 160 yards and a score. Seven of those receptions covered at least 10 yards.
Minutes later, it was the Rams’ special teams turn, as Cage Dowden blocked a punt to give Ligonier Valley the ball inside the Bellwood 35-yard line. Keyed by a big block by lineman Mike Petrof, Kyrie Miller capped the drive eight plays later with a 2-yard touchdown run for a 21-0 lead the Rams took into the half.
“Ligonier Valley is a very good football team,” Bellwood-Antis coach Nick Lovrich said. “They have pretty much everything: They have speed, they have big guys, they can run, they can pass, they tackle well. They good a lot of good things, and we tried to play our best game. They made more plays than we did.”
The only big play the Blue Devils made all night came on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, when senior quarterback Shawn Wolfe broke loose for a 55-yard scoring run.
Other than that, the Rams held the 5-8, 155 speedster in check. Wolfe — who entered play with more than 1,600 yards of offense and 17 total touchdowns — was limited to 78 yards on 16 carries and completed just 3 of 14 passes for 27 yards.
“The kid is lightning fast and we couldn’t catch him,” Beitel said of Wolfe. “(Our) guys just harassed him all night … it was just great overall defense with the exception of that one play.”
Bellwood-Antis (10-2), which saw its 10-game winning streak snapped, finished with just 123 yards of offense and six first downs.
“They put some pressure on us up the middle and that kind of slowed our offense down a little bit,” Lovrich said. “That’s a complement to them … they made us struggle.”
“Our defense was phenomenal,” Beitel said of the unit, which came into Saturday allowing just 9 points per contest. “I know they didn’t complete (any passes) against our corners. Andrew (Kuzemchak) and Zach (Beitel) were lights out. They shut them down.”
While they made things tough on the Rams at times, the Blue Devils weren’t as fortunate. After Wolfe’s score, Caldwell put a bow on a 12-play drive by scrambling to his left, then back to his right to find an open Cage Dowden for a 21-yard score to make it 28-7 with 6:28 left in the third. Miller closed the scoring with a 2-yard run late in the fourth.
In all, Ligonier Valley finished with 505 yards of offense (310 passing, 195 rushing).
Caldwell connected on 17 of 28 passes for 310 yards and two scores and an interception. He’s thrown for 35 touchdowns and has three 300-yard-plus passing games this season.
Lovrich, took over the program this summer from Bellwood coaching legend John Hayes, is proud of what his team accomplished in his first year in charge.
“We did some things they weren’t used to and any time there’s change, it’s hard,” he said. “But I’m so proud of these guys. They adapted to everything we wanted to do — we didn’t have one bad practice all year. The kids busted their butt, did everything we asked them to do, and it was a very enjoyable year.”
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bellwood-Antis 0 0 7 0 — 7
Ligonier Valley 7 14 7 6 — 34
LV–Sheeder 47 pass from Caldwell, (Stoll kick), 9:20
LV–Sheeder 9 run, (Stoll kick), 10:14
LV–Miller 2 run, (Stoll kick), 5:26
BA–Wolfe 55 run, (Schmoke kick), 11:43
LV–Dowden 20 pass from Caldwell, (Stoll kick), 6:28
LV–Miller 3 run, (kick blocked), 2:47
TEAM STATISTICS BA LV
First downs 6 27
Yards rushing 26-105 42-194
Pass Att.-Comp.-Int. 3-15-0 16-28-1
Passing yards 28 308
Total yards 41-133 70-502
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 2-30 1-10
Punts-avg. 8-31 0-0
RUSHING: Bellwood-Antis, Wolfe 17-91, Schmoke 1-21, Frederick 5-2, Mallon 1-2, Walker 1-0, TEAM 1-(-11). Ligonier Valley, Miller 26-74, Tutino 1-52, Caldwell 7-44, Sheeder 4-26, Kelley 1-3, TEAM 3-(-5).
PASSING: Bellwood-Antis, Wolfe 3-14-0-28, Miller 0-1-0-0. Ligonier Valley, Caldwell 16-27-1-308, Sheeder 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: Bellwood-Antis, Schmoke 1-13, Wyland 1-8, Walker 1-7. Ligonier Valley, Sheeder 9-154, Tutino 4-107, Miller 2-27, Dowden 1-20.