The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

High School Sports

October 11, 2013

Rams, Comets matchup highlights Week 7

This was supposed to be the season Penns Manor would have difficulty adapting to football life without all-everything quarterback Danny Ferens.

At Ligonier Valley, the Rams faced uncertainty with only three starters back on offense and five back on defense. A couple early season injuries added to the questions facing Ligonier.

Yet, as Week 7 begins, both Ligonier and Penns Manor are undefeated in six games. Once again, the Heritage Conference title and key District 6 points will be on the line when the rivals meet at Weller Field.

“Looking into the season, we’re excited at being where we’re at right now,” Penns Manor coach Bill Packer said. “I never expected that (record), but these kids have really come on. We know we’re going to be in for a battle with Ligonier. They’re another team that has some young kids but a lot of athletes there. We look for a real good game.”

Penns Manor has scored 214 points while holding opponents to 51 behind the strength of a big, physical and experienced offensive line. The Comets average 346 rushing yards a game, and 28 of the team’s 31 touchdowns have come on the ground. Penns Manor’s defense has produced 21 sacks.

“Our offensive line has been dominant. We have four starters back on the offensive line,” said Packer, listing right guard Luke Ruddock, center John Stupic, left guard Steven Dumm and tackle Brandon Alter. “We knew we had to build around that area. Those kids did a nice job the last few years. With their experience that’s been a strength for us.”

The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Ruddock is a four-year starter, while 5-10, 235-pound Dumm and 6-1, 235-pound Stupic are three-year starters. Junior Alter is 6-3, 235.

“These are the same kids, all but one, that started last year,” Ligonier coach Roger Beitel said of the Comets. “Their offensive line across the front, the lightest kid is 235. They have three 235-pounders and one 250. They have some beef up front. That’s the strength of their football team on both sides of the ball. They have five kids that weigh more than any one kid we have. They have size and experience, kids who have started a lot of football games.”

That doesn’t mean Ligonier is without its own formidable weapons.

The Rams’ line has done its job despite the graduation and injury losses. Ligonier has outscored opponents 210-72 and uses a diverse offense that averages 203.8 rushing yards and 152.7 passing yards a game.

“We only returned three kids from last year. I’m elated to be 6-0,” Beitel said. “A lot of our credit needs to go to coach (Corey) Turcheck and coach (Karl) Petrof and what they’ve been able to do with our line. Tremendous coaching job by those two guys to put us in a situation where we’re 6-0.”

Rams freshman Collin Smith has emerged as a big-play back in the absence of junior Michael Keller, who was lost to injury early in the year.  Smith has 326 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries, a 6.5 average. Senior quarterback Scott Fennell has masterfully guided the offense and is a threat to run (331 yards, eight touchdowns) or pass (916 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions). Senior Dereck Croyle has 314 rushing yards and six TDs.

Senior Alec Bloom is a 6-7 UConn recruit with 26 receptions for 476 yards and seven touchdowns. Bloom has a knack for making the key catch or momentum-swaying play. When opponents adapt their defense to concentrate on Bloom, the Rams have capitalized by gaining big chunks of yardage elsewhere. Beitel said such as the case against Windber, a game in which Bloom played a huge role despite a relatively quiet night on the statistics sheet. Last week Bloom had five catches for 133 yards against Saltsburg, his second 100-plus receiving game.

“When we look at Ligonier, really, the quarterback Fennell is really athletic,” Packer said. “He can throw the ball well but he can run the ball. The big tight end, Bloom, they use as a flanker, and they like to get the ball in his hands. Fennell throws the ball nice to him. He gets the ball up high and he goes and gets it.

“The tailback is a freshman, and, boy, I can see where that kid is getting stronger and he’s really running hard,” the Comets coach added. “They have a lot of weapons. We have to come out and play a well-balanced defensive game and stop them.”

Ligonier holds an 8-5 advantage in the series against Penns Manor since 2000. But the Comets have won four of the past five meetings since 2008.

“It all starts with the fact that I graduated from there,” said Beitel, a Penns Manor grad. “My wife and I joke that I love it but I hate it. I have people that I grew up with and talk to, and I pull into town and they scream and yell to me. A couple years ago up there I called a timeout and someone yelled my name from the stands. Our kids asked, ‘Do you know that guy?’ I said, “Yeah, that’s one of my good friends growing up.’

“The last four or five years it’s become an interesting rivalry,” Beitel added. “The last few years whoever has won this game has gone on to become the conference champion.”

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