Laurel Valley Ram offense comes to life in 32-0 win
NEW FLORENCE — For the Laurel Valley Rams, it was a perfect example of what they wanted to do this year. For the Blairsville Bobcats, it was a perfect example of what they did do this year.
The Rams’ offense had its best game of the season with four touchdowns — three from Bryan Saxton — while the defense added one more score on a Kegan Hall interception return, as Laurel Valley defeated Blairsville 32-0 on Senior Day at Ram Field.
The win broke a five-game losing streak for the Rams (3-6), who came into the contest averaging just 7.9 points per game for the season. Against Blairsville, however, the offense resembled the Rams of old, combining a grind-it-out running game with the occasional big play to gain a total of 215 yards, with 205 coming on the ground.
In addition, the defense picked up its second shutout of the season while forcing four Blairsville turnovers and holding the Bobcats to 135 total yards.
“It all comes down to blocking and tackling, and our kids were just willing to block a little better today and tackle a little bit better,” Laurel Valley head coach Chuck Nanassy said. “Unfortunately, a couple games this year we could’ve played better. Today it came all together, though.”
For the Bobcats (3-6), the game went the same as many others in this disappointing season as turnovers, untimely penalties and an inability to bring down ball carriers hurt the Bobcats Saturday.
“You can sum up our season by looking at this game today,” Blairsville head coach Ab Dettorre said after the game. “That’s been how we played all year. It’s unfortunate, but that’s just where we’re at right now.”
Blairsville’s biggest problem defensively was containing the junior wingback Saxton, who scored three of the five times he touched the ball on offense and finished with 93 yards rushing.
“I got to give the credit to the line,” Saxton said. “They were fired up today, and they blocked really well, and I just followed my blockers and read them.”
It was a satisfying way to end the season for Saxton, who was expected to be one of the Rams’ top players on both offense and defense this year, but he missed two games and was limited in playing time because of a hip injury that has bothered him since early in the season.
That was a common theme this year for the Rams, who were hit hard by injuries all season.
“You take a kid like Bryan Saxton, he’s been fighting a hip injury since the third week of the season,” Nanassy said. “He’s still not 100 percent, but he’s as close as possible, and he ran very well today. When we’re healthy we’re much more effective.”
Ironically, it was Blairsville that was hit with injuries Saturday. While already trailing 12-0 late in the second quarter, the Bobcats lost two of their top offensive players on consecutive snaps.
After gaining 10 yards on a second-and-19 run, quarterback Scott Harsh was slow to get up after taking a big hit. The senior, who led the Heritage Conference in passing yards, left the game and didn’t return. He was replaced by sophomore Michael Milliron for the remainder of the contest.
On the very next play, running back Ryan Conrad, who already missed several games due to injury, had to be helped off the field following a 3-yard gain. He also didn’t return to the game.
Up to that point, the offense had revolved around Harsh and Conrad, and after they left, the offense struggled to move the ball the rest of the game.
“It hurts you, and it hurts the morale of your team,” Dettorre said of the injuries. “Scott goes out, and he’s our leader on both sides of the ball. I don’t take anything away from Laurel Valley, though. They came to play.”
The Rams’ defense certainly came to play, and it made its presence felt midway through the second quarter — shortly before the injuries to Harsh and Conrad — when Hall intercepted a Harsh pass in the flat and rumbled 30 yards on the muddy field for the touchdown to put Laurel Valley ahead 12-0.
“I just ran as fast as I could in the mud,” said Hall, a senior linebacker. “It feels great to go out with a win. I love the feeling. We were all fired up. It’s our last game, and we let it all hang out.”
The Laurel Valley defense intercepted Blairsville quarterbacks four times with Charles Miller, Joseph Reed and Joseph Hepner also coming down with picks.
Miller’s interception ended the Bobcats’ first possession, which turned out to be their best drive of the day. On the 15th play of the drive, Miller picked off a Harsh pass on a fourth-and-14 from the Laurel Valley 22.
The Rams then scored their first touchdown by driving 72 yards in six plays, capped off by a 15-yard run by Saxton. The drive included a 40-yard run by Hall, who finished the game with 77 yards on 12 carries.
After taking a 12-0 lead into halftime, the Rams scored twice in the third quarter on runs of 15 and 55 yards by Saxton to make the score 26-0. The first score was set up when a low snap on a Blairsville punt put the Rams at the Bobcat 30-yard line.
The Rams capped off the scoring with 7:32 left in the fourth when quarterback Adam Miller made his lone completion of the day — a 10-yarder to Eric Bucklen in the end zone on fourth-and-9.
“I think we left our game at United last week,” said Dettorre, referring to the Bobcats’ solid performance in a loss to the eventual conference champions the previous week. “This was basically a meaningless game — except for Laurel Valley it meant a senior win. They wanted it a little bit more than we did.”
The Rams will be returning a lot of their starters next year, and they hope that ended the season with a resounding victory will carry over until next year.
“That’s a feeling you have to capture from this game,” Nanassy said. “Bottle it somehow, make sure the seniors take those memories with them, and pass that on to the underclassmen, so we can get a good start next year.”
The Bobcats will also return a lot of players next season, and Dettorre said the returning players will need to dedicate themselves to improving their off-season training in order for the team to be successful.
“We need a lot of off-season work, and we just didn’t do it this year,” Dettorre said. “I’ve seen this coming on for three or four years now. It didn’t just happen this year. It’s a learned behavior, and they learned it well, and now we have to change that a little bit.”
NOTES: The Bobcats’ 3-6 record is their worst since they went 3-6 in three consecutive seasons from 1998-2000. … Blairsville finished the regular season as the conference’s top team in passing offense while Harsh and wide receiver Andy Kurnocik led the league in passing and receiving yards, respectively. … The Rams’ 32-point win was their largest margin of victory since beating United 41-0 in 2006.
Laurel Valley: 32
LV- Saxton 15 run (kick failed)
LV- Hall 30 interception return (run failed)
LV- Saxton 15 run (run failed)
LV- Saxton 55 run (C. Miller pass from A. Miller)
LV- Bucklen 10 pass from A. Miller (kick aborted)
RUSHING: B- Conrad 10-26, Harsh 4-21, Maryai 10-15, Crawford 2-14, Iezzi 3-14, Milliron 3-6; LV- Saxton 5-93-3, Hall 12-77, C. Miller 5-19, Nanassy 2-9, Machak 2-7, Bucklen 1-3, A. Miller 4-1, Unzicker 1-0, Waugh 1-(-4).
PASSING: B- Harsh 4-12-2-33, Milliron 2-9-2-6, Maryai 0-1-0-0; LV- A. Miller 1-2-0-10.
RECEIVING: B- Kurnocik 3-30, Iezzi 2-7, Crawford 1-2; LV- Bucklen 1-10-1.
INTERCEPTIONS: B- None; LV- Hepner 1-37, Hall 1-30-1, C. Miller 1-14, Reed 1-0.
TEAM STATISTICS B LV
First downs 9 10
Rushes-yards 32-96 33-205-3
Passes-int 6-21-4 1-2-0
Passing yards 39 10
Total offense 135 215
Punts-avg. 1-24.0 2-27.5
Penalties-yards 4-34 3-33
Fumbles-lost 5-0 2-0