Ligonier Valley rolls past Marion Center in opening round of District 6 playoffs
When he learned that Ligonier Valley would be playing its District 6-2A football playoff opener a short distance down Route 30 at Greensburg’s Offutt Field, Kyrie Miller had mixed emotions.
“We were excited, but a little bummed out at first,” the junior running back said Friday night after posting his second consecutive 200-yard rushing game.
The artificial surface served Miller and his teammates well in a 41-0 rout of Marion Center. The game was played at a neutral site after officials at Ligonier Valley determined earlier in the week that muddy conditions at Weller Field in Ligonier had turned the grass surface into a quagmire.
“It’s great playing here,” he said. “Turf over mud is definitely above. We were just bummed because it wasn’t going to be our home game at Weller Field. But at the same point, we got to come out here and showcase our abilities, and it’s not too far from home.”
Miller rushed for 236 yards and three touchdowns and John Caldwell threw two touchdown passes to Aaron Tutino and rushed for another score for Ligonier Valley (11-0), which will advance to play either Bellwood-Antis or West Shamokin next week.
A week ago, Miller helped Ligonier Valley capture its third consecutive Appalachian Bowl title with a school-record 251 yards rushing in a 45-8 victory over Shade.
Miller, who has rushed for more than 200 yards in a game three times this season, found a groove when Marion Center double-covered Tutino, the PIAA record-holder in career touchdowns. He carried 17 times for a 13.3-yard average.
“Every time we’ve seen it, Kyrie rushed for over 200 yards,” Ligonier Valley coach Roger Beitel said. “The offensive line did a great job picking up the blitzes and the rest was in the hands of the backs, who did a good job of possessing the ball and finishing runs.”
Ligonier Valley, which is aiming for its third consecutive District 6-2A championship, took advantage of five interceptions, turning several of them into scoring drives.
The Rams took a 22-0 lead in the third quarter on Miller’s 24-yard touchdown run, Caldwell’s 7-yard scoring pass to Tutino after a blocked punt gave the Rams the ball inside the 10 and a 1-yard plunge by Miller.
They made it 34-0 at halftime as Caldwell found Tutino on a 24-yard scoring play and Miller raced 22 yards for yet another score.
“That team has speed and talent and is big and tough up front,” Marion Center coach Adam Rising said. “That’s a program that eats, breathes and sleeps the weight room. That’s very evident. They’re such a well-balanced football team.”
When Caldwell scored on a 10-yard keeper early in the third quarter to give Ligonier Valley a 41-0 advantage, the game was over in a snap after a running clock was put into play.
Caldwell completed 9 of 18 passes for 124 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Tutino caught six passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He dropped a pass in the end zone near the end of the first half but made up for it with a scoring reception two plays later, giving him 59 for his career.
Tutino also topped the 4,000-yard mark in career receiving yards and needs just five receptions to reach 200.
“For the most part,” Miller said, “teams will take another guy out of the box to cover Tutino. That just opens up more lanes for me, and it makes the line’s job easier. They’re just able to set up a lot more blocks for me.”
Marion Center (5-6), which lost a regular-season game to Ligonier Valley, 49-27, on Oct. 5, wasted a pair of legitimate scoring opportunities in the latest meeting.
The Stingers drove deep into Ligonier Valley territory but were foiled both times on downs.
“Great effort by our kids,” Beitel said. “The thing I’m most proud of is that I’m seeing them genuinely being anxious and excited for each other. The mantra of team over self was there again tonight.”