MIFFLINTOWN - If you were looking for the Juniata football game on the 11 o'clock news, you wouldn't see it - the game didn't end until after the first headline.
If you were a Juniata fan, you might be better off.
After a highlight-reel first quarter that saw the Indians flirting with the mercy rule, visiting Tri-Valley put together its first successful drive - and then it assembled five more.
Sentinel photo by MATT?STRICKER
Juniata’s Chad Eberle (10) breaks a tackle attempt by Tri Valley’s Hunter Harner (1) on the way to the end zone on the opening kickoff Friday evening at Dietrick Field in Mifflintown. See more photos online at cu.lewistownsentinel.com
The final: 35-26 in favor of the Bulldogs in the Tri-Valley League opener for both teams.
Gary Klingensmith has seen an awful lot in 44 years of coaching. And yet the Bulldogs found a way to leave him flabbergasted.
"We got off to a great start, but things just went downhill from there," he said. "There was just nothing we could do to get them stopped. We tried every defense we had.
Juniata hosts Line Mountain Sept. 14
"I didn't think we were going to go out to a 26-0 lead either."
No one could have predicted the opening minutes of the contest, in which Juniata appeared to have magical powers when the ball was in its hands. The Indians had a 20-0 lead just a little more than halfway into the first, and had run only five plays from scrimmage - four of those on their second possession.
Chad Eberle started the touchdown festival on his return of the game's opening kickoff. He made it from the 13 to the mid-40s where Bulldog tacklers seemed to have a grasp, but slipped free and dashed for the end zone. With his own kick at the end of the 83-yard effort, it was 7-0 and the game was but 14 seconds old.
On the first offensive snap for Juniata, after a Tri-Valley four-and-out, Neil Bodley called his own number, swept to the sideline and ran untouched to another score.
Four quick downs passed for the Bulldogs again, and again it was Bodley who carried the offense. Three runs, the last one a 61-yard effort again on the outside of the line, and it seemed there was nothing that would stop the Big Red machine. In those two runs, Bodley amassed 134 of his team-high 155 yards, and made it look as though the Tri-Valley tacklers had nothing to stop Juniata.
And then once more, after Tri-Valley pinned the Indians on their own 22 to start their fourth possession, Scott Sneath made it a 26-0 game when he took an inside handoff and blasted through the Bulldog defense, scoring on the longest offensive play of the night, a 78-yard scamper.
So when the visitors got around their own mistakes - and benefited from a Juniata holding call on what would have been an incomplete pass - to score their first touchdown, it hardly seemed reason to worry. The six-play, 59-yard effort wasn't spectacular, and it only meant the opening quarter would end in a slightly smaller lead.
Instead, it was the turning point of the game - Juniata mustered just 20 yards of net offense over the next three quarters, while the dual threat of Dalton Miller and Blake Bowman would propel Tri-Valley.
Miller and Bowman traded off at taking snaps and running the ball, and were able to do the latter to great success. Bowman amassed 254 yards on 36 carries, scoring three touchdowns - the first, the last and the go-ahead score. Miller added 174 yards on 36 tries and scored the other two. Each added a two-point conversion as well.
The key was that it was rarely obvious which one would take the snap, nor which would be running the ball from the backfield.
"That quarterback getting it and the fullback keeping it, the next time the fullback gets it and the quarterback fakes it. That was all they needed," Klingensmith said. "Those running backs are pretty tough. Those kids hit our line. I knew we were going to have a tough time stopping these guys."
Juniata was its own worst enemy when the Bulldogs had the ball, though, as the line was unable to stop the runners and the ends got pulled out of position by Tri-Valley's misdirection efforts.
"There were a lot of missed tackles. It looked like they were a little bit too quick and fast for us," Klingensmith said. "We just have to learn something from this game. I'm sure there's a lot of things to learn from it. It was a hard loss."
The second quarter saw the longest span without a touchdown - not including the first of two lightning delays - as the teams traded possessions four times until, with a hurry-up offense deep in Juniata territory, Miller crossed the line 33 seconds before the half.
After a nearly 60-minute break - again due to lightning - Tri-Valley marched the opening possession of the second half 80 yards on nine plays, with Miller scoring again.
Juniata's next drive ended with a dual personal foul call and players from both sides getting an early exit. Tri-Valley's next ended with the Bulldogs taking the lead.
Juniata avoided one more touchdown in the third when an apparently successful 52-yard scoring pass was negated on a Bulldog penalty. But a face mask call against the Indians helped Tri-Valley get that much closer to the end zone in the fourth quarter on what would be the last scoring effort of the game.
Juniata (1-1, 0-1) hosts Line Mountain Sept. 14.