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Ligonier Valley vows to make return to playoffs in 2015

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Brian F. Henry | Trib Total Media
Ligonier Valley quarterback Collin Smith scores a touchdown during the first quarter of a game against Homer-Center at Ligonier Valley on Friday, Oct. 24, 2014.
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Brian F. Henry | Trib Total Media
Ligonier Valley's Alex Marsh during a game against Homer-Center at Ligonier Valley on Friday, Oct. 24, 2014.

For the Ligonier Valley football team, missing the District 6 playoffs was a numbers game. Too many turnovers and three close losses resulted in the Rams posting a losing record and failing to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2008.

“I’m disappointed we had a losing season and also that we didn’t qualify for the playoffs,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “But we played well at times.”

The Rams battled to a 4-6 overall record and a 4-4 mark in Heritage Conference play, good for a fourth-place finish. Three of Ligonier Valley’s conference defeats were by a combined 11 points.

Sophomore Collin Smith proved his worth as a playmaker on both sides of the ball, accounting for more than 1,400 yards at quarterback and racking up 71 tackles, four passes defensed and three interceptions as a safety. He accounted for 13 touchdowns (10 rushing, two passing and one interception return), but he also was responsible for 13 turnovers.

“Moving forward, we need to cut down on the turnovers,” Beitel said. “We need to teach him that the ball is the most important thing we have. The football must stay in our possession.”

With Smith just a sophomore, Beitel and his staff will preach ball security while also encouraging their young signal-caller to continue to develop his dynamic talent.

“You still want a stallion to be wild,” Beitel said. “I don’t want to harness any of that. That’s what makes great players great — the belief that they can complete any pass on the field or make a play at any time.”

Beitel feels Smith’s defensive numbers could have been even better if he hadn’t been tasked with covering the opposition’s top receiver every game.

Sophomore Elijah Parrish had a “monster season” for the defense from his inside linebacker spot, Beitel said. He racked up a team-high 129 tackles (85 solo), nine tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and a sack.

“He was a beast for us,” Beitel said.

The Rams posted a 2-2 record at home and went 2-4 on the road. They won consecutive games in early September — besting Purchase Line on the road 23-20 on Sept. 5 and rolling to a 49-12 win against United on Sept. 12 at home.

Beitel’s team rose to the occasion time and again against the top teams in the Heritage Conference, even if the efforts didn’t always result in victories.

“We competed at a higher level against better teams,” Beitel said. “Penns Manor was a one-possession game at the half, and we had Homer-Center on the ropes until we fumbled going in for the go-ahead score. We were in every game we played except one.”

Ligonier Valley graduates just eight seniors from the 2014 squad, so several young players garnered varsity experience this season. That should bode well in the Rams’ quest to return to the playoffs.

“We put some guys in roles they’d never really been in before,” Beitel said. “It was their first time really being ‘the guy.’

“We showed tremendous growth as a football team.”

Kevin Ritchart is a freelance writer.

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