On the heels of a lopsided loss in their season opener and facing an early deficit on the road in a Week Two matchup, Ligonier Valley’s inexperienced group could have easily been deflated. The Rams showed resolve, however, mounting a comeback to defeat Frazier 35-19 last week.
Now, the Rams face another challenge, with a trip spanning almost the entire WPIAL boundary to play 2-0 Western Beaver on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
Head coach Roger Beitel and the Rams won’t complain about the long trek, which is expected to span more than two hours. Originally, Ligonier Valley was slated to have a rare open date, as the lone WPIAL team without a scheduled game for the week. Western Beaver’s original opponent, Summit Academy, decided not to participate in the football season, however, which allowed the Rams and the Golden Beavers to match up.
“You just can’t pass up the opportunity to play. Our other option was no game,” Beitel said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to see another really good team in the WPIAL.”
The upcoming tilt will be a non-conference affair, as was the game against Frazier. And while the meeting meant little to playoff implications, scoring the first victory as a WPIAL team in more than 50 years had real significance for the Rams.
“Just a tremendous character win for our kids. They had so many different things to deal with in the game, and they were still able to maintain their composure and keep their focus, and just kept playing,” Beitel detailed.
To that point, the Rams overcame a dreadful start. In addition to distractions that occurred before the contest, the Commodores recovered an unintentional kickoff to begin the game. Although the Ligonier Valley defense provided a stop, Rams quarterback Haden Sierocky threw an interception, and Frazier took advantage.
On fourth down, the Commodores took a shot through the air, and while Ligonier Valley cornerback Nick Beitel tipped the pass, it fell into the arms of the awaiting receiver for a 25-yard score.
The Rams committed another turnover on the ensuing drive, and Frazier scored on a 22-yard pass on the subsequent play to make it 13-0.
“If you could sit down with a checklist and go through a list of things that could possibly go wrong to start a game, that was us,” Beitel noted.
“When we get to the second quarter, our kids just kept battling. They were extremely physical, and at that point, the game turned over.”
Ligonier Valley got on the board on a 1-yard run by Sierocky, and the turning point came in the final minute of the first half, when Nick Beitel intercepted a pass and returned it 74 yards, staking Ligonier Valley to an improbable 14-13 edge.
“For us to go in with a lead was really just unbelievable,” Roger Beitel stated.
The Rams took command in the second half, as they used a physical style to wear down Frazier, and also found a rhythm offensively. Grant Dowden scored twice – on a 7-yard run, and via a 24-yard reception from Sierocky. His speed proved to be a major factor in the Rams’ success.
“We needed to get to the perimeter, and Grant did that for us,” Beitel said, noting that he used the junior receiver on jet sweeps to add a wrinkle to the offense.
Additionally, after the poor start, the Rams defense allowed just one more score, a late touchdown in the fourth quarter after the outcome was already decided.
With the win, the Rams take momentum into Saturday’s matchup against Western Beaver, which has defeated both Side Side Beaver and Beaver Area. The team also includes a co-op with Lincoln Park Performing Arts, a WPIAL basketball powerhouse. Some of those standouts on the hardwood have made an impact for the Golden Beavers this year.
“They like to run the football, but they have athletes, and those kids, at any given time, can go,” Beitel said.
Among those athletes is junior running back Cameron Irvine, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound running back, and senior receiver Dakkari Bradford, who stands 6-foot-4. Irvine combines with Thad Gray to provide a 1-2 punch in the backfield, while Bradford and Elias Bishop have been the top receivers thus far. However, the Golden Beavers haven’t shown much in the passing game, and QB Xander Lefebvre has shown the ability to run.
Beitel noted that the Golden Beavers are big along the offensive line, while they usually play with eight in the box defensively, constantly bringing pressure.
Western Beaver’s previous head coach, former Penn State standout Derek Moye, had to resign as a result of a work conflict, which prompted athletic director Ryan Matsook to return to the sidelines. He last served as a high-school football coach in 2016, when he guided Beaver Falls to the WPIAL and PIAA championships.
While the game again means almost nothing in terms of the Rams playoff aspirations, it serves as another road test for a team that needs the reps to get acclimated to the varsity level and a new district.
“As these guys continue to gain experience, they’re going to increase their comfort level, and they’re not going to be in awe of the big lights that are on on a Friday night, or the opponent they’re going against,” Beitel said of his players.