PERRYOPOLIS — Ligonier Valley’s first WPIAL football victory in 50 years was worth the wait.
The Rams, the newest member of District 7 after being a District 6 powerhouse in recent years, erased an early double-digit deficit Friday for a gutsy 35-19 win against Frazier in a WPIAL Class 2A non-conference matchup.
“I’m old and I’ve won a lot of football games,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “And that was one of the most memorable ones tonight.”
Ligonier Valley (1-1 overall) trailed 13-0 after the first quarter, but used a 1-yard plunge from sophomore quarterback Haden Sierocky and a 74-yard interception return from junior defensive back/running back Nick Beitel late in the half to take a 14-13 lead at intermission.
The pre-halftime surge fueled the Rams, who rattled off 35 unanswered points from late in the second quarter until early in the fourth. That included scoring runs of 1 and 4 yards from Sierocky, while he also connected with Grant Dowden for a 24-yard strike in the third quarter. Dowden also scored on a 7-yard run in the second half, while Sierocky ran another one in from 4 yards out.
Sierocky finished with a game-best 92 yards on 15 carries, and completed 4 of 9 passes for 69 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He also picked off a pass on defense. Nick Beitel, along with his timely pick-six, added 75 rushing yards on 19 attempts.
Ligonier Valley, which graduated 16 seniors, including 11 of whom are continuing their football careers at the college level, is back in the WPIAL after a half-century absence. The school had been a WPIAL member from 1927-69 before leaving for District 6. As a member of District 6, the program reached impressive heights, earning a spot in the PIAA semifinals in 2016, and more recently, boasting a 2020 senior class that posted a four-year mark of 51-4, won a pair of District 6 Class 2A championships and never lost a conference game.
But this year’s group, with just two returning offensive starters and one defensive starter, is making strides with each passing day.
“I haven’t been this excited in a long time about a regular season game,” Beitel said of Friday’s win. “It’s making me feel young again because what we did as a group was phenomenal.
“We had a much better week of practice than the week before, and our resiliency and our physicality was the biggest thing (tonight). Every week we take the field, we’re going to be smaller than everybody, but I thought we were really physical. I’m super excited for the kids and their effort.”
The Rams displayed that fight after a less than ideal start to Friday’s contest, as they turned the ball over on the opening kickoff after it inadvertently hit a Ligonier Valley player. While they stuffed the Commodores on a fourth-and-1 later in the drive, Sierocky was picked off by Christian Mingrino on the next possession. Frazier scored five plays later when standout quarterback Brayden Boggs found a leaping Luke Santo from 22 yards out.
Ligonier Valley experienced more of the same four plays later when Sierocky was intercepted by Shawn Fordyce. And Boggs didn’t waste any time taking advantage, hitting Kenny Fine for 33 yards and Thomas in the end zone in stride for 22 yards on consecutive plays to make it 13-0.
“It was just a comedy of errors early on,” Beitel said of the Rams’ opening quarter, which featured three turnovers and a slew of big offensive plays for Frazier. “I was like, ‘Can anything else go wrong?’ I was whispering that in the headset. But myself and all the coaches along the sideline kept encouraging the kids to play the next play. And they did.”
The Rams began to find their way in the second quarter, though the results didn’t come immediately. While Matthew Marinchak kept the ensuing possession alive with a 31-yard catch on a fourth-and-15 play, the Rams failed to dent the scoreboard after Frazier’s defense knocked loose a competed Ligonier Valley pass and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback.
While Ligonier Valley eventually scored on Sierocky’s short-yardage plunge, the tide changed for good after Boggs was hurt on a hard hit from star lineman Jude Grzywinski in the waning seconds of the half. Boggs, who didn’t return and spent the rest of the game on crutches, had completed seven of 13 passes for 139 yards and two scores.
And Boggs was potentially marching Frazier down the field for another score, having connected three straight first down throws before the injury. On the play after Boggs was hurt, Nick Beitel intercepted an errant pass from backup Dominick Dorcon and raced down the right sideline to give Ligonier Valley an out-of-nowhere halftime lead.
Frazier’s quarterbacks didn’t complete another pass all night, and the team failed to reclaim its once-commanding lead. Ligonier Valley also held the Commodores to just four second-half first downs on offense.
“We went into halftime winning a football game where we just made colossal mistake after colossal mistake,” Beitel said of the late rally before the break. “I just told them to keep playing. I’m super proud of how these kids performed. We tell that to them all the time and that was something that was evident tonight with the way they kept battling back.”
Ligonier Valley continues its early-season stretch of road games when it visits Western Beaver, (1-0) 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We want to see growth,” Beitel said. “... We played a great football team (Apollo-Ridge) last week, and in the first three weeks of the season, we’re going to play two of the top five teams ranked in Double-A in the WPIAL. This is what we need to do.”
Ligonier Valley 35 Frazier 19