T-D HS Football

Rams rally past Bobcats

By: Cory Isenberg

BLAIRSVILLE — Blairsville led 17-6 after the first half in its Heritage Conference match up with Ligonier Valley but the Rams defense shut the Bobcats high-power offense down completely in the second half to earn a 21-17 victory in a battle of unbeaten squads.
“The first half we faced a lot of adversity and we didn’t execute very well,” Ligonier coach Roger Beitel said after his team improved to 3-0. “A lot of that goes to the credit of Blairsville. They came after us and had some exotic blitzes and made some big plays. At halftime, we told them they had to come out and make plays. We crawled and scratched and fought and got back in that football game and found a way to win.”
The Bobcats (2-1) set the pace from the outset, taking the opening kickoff and putting together a 12-play drive which covered 72 yards, capped by a 2-yard Deion Robinson run. Andrew Stipcak’s kick put Blairsville ahead 7-0 with the driving taking nearly eight minutes.
In the second quarter, the Bobcats used two big pass plays of 16 and 36 yards to freshman Ricky Shirley to set up for a 25-yard field goal by Stipcak for a 10-0 advantage at the 4:33 mark.
The Rams finally got a spark from the special teams as Dan Croyle took the ensuing kickoff at the 16-yard line and dashed the length of the field for a Ligonier touchdown. The run failed and the Rams trailed 10-6.
Blairsville answered right back less than a minute later when quarterback Scott Thompson threw a 60-yard pass to Robinson for a touchdown. Stipcak’s kick put the Bobcats ahead 17-6.
After Ligonier went three and out, the Bobcats had another scoring opportunity right before the half, but the Rams held firm stopping the drive at the 1 as time ran out.
“At the end of the first half, I was going to kick a field goal,” Blairsville coach Rick Artley said. “We knew at that point that Colton (McMillan) was gone (injured) and without him, we knew the game was going to change. He rolled his other ankle from the one that he injured earlier in the season. We decided to try to punch it in and we didn’t get it in.”
The Rams were limited to 26 yards of total offense in the first half, but the momentum seemed to shift Ligonier’s direction in the second half.
“We needed to get into our rhythm and our sequence,” Beitel said. “We were sort of out of rhythm in that first half. There were some plays in the first half that we didn’t make and they did.”
The Rams took the second half kickoff and moved 73 yards on six plays. One of the biggest plays of the drive was a Scott Fennell pass to Jordan Jones for a 62-yard gain to the Blairsville 4. Three plays later, Fennell plunged into the end zone for the touchdown then added the conversion run to pull Ligonier to within 17-14.
Each team turned the ball over once in the third quarter, with the Bobcats recovering a Ligonier fumble and Fennell picking off a Thompson pass.
The Rams began what turned out to be their winning drive at the end of the third quarter, starting from the Blairsville 45.
Freshman Collin Smith and Fennell carried most of the load on the drive with Smith carrying six times for 25 yards and Fennell twice for 12. The touchdown came on an 8-yard Fennell pass to Alec Bloom, his lone catch of the night thanks to the swarming Bobcats defense.
“That’s a catch that a 6-foot-7 kid makes,” Beitel said about Bloom. “They did a great job on him and we couldn’t get the ball to him most of the game, but he did make that one key catch in the end zone.”
Dan Croyle added the kick for the four-point margin for Ligonier with 8:36 remaining.
The Bobcats had two more opportunities to score but went three and out on the first. Their last drive ended at the Rams 10 when a Thompson pass intended for Robinson fell incomplete on fourth down and Blairsville turned the ball over to Ligonier, which ran out the clock.
“It was an opportunity for the defense to make some plays,” Beitel said. “Those kids were in position, they just kept coming after them. They got some quarterback sacks and they had relentless desire to dig deep down and win this football game. Great win for our kids today.”
Both teams had some key injuries in the game with Ligonier Valley losing fullback/linebacker Dereck Croyle while the Bobcats were without McMillan, a receiver, and lineman Jarod Dick.
Robinson was the game’s leading rusher with 23 carries for 82 yards. For Ligonier, Fennell finished with 14 carries for 52 yards while Smith had 34 yards on 10 carries, all in the second half.