PINE GROVE - It was certainly a win that the Pine Grove Cardinals' football team needed.
After losing many standout players from the past couple seasons, and after two tough losses to open the 2012 campaign, the Cardinals rode a fine running effort by Ryan Heim and a stellar defensive performance to blast East Juniata 31-0 on Friday night at Cardinal Stadium.
"We started out slow, but we gradually gained some confidence," Pine Grove coach Jeff Sampson said. "We made some decent plays and took advantage of some turnovers. We're improving each week."
Some of the improvement can be seen in Heim.
The junior carried 21 times for 160 yards and three touchdowns. He broke a big 44-yard run late in the third quarter to set up his first score, which ended any doubt in the outcome.
"He's a good back," Sampson said. "He runs hard and makes a lot of stuff on his own."
Pine Grove (1-2, 1-2 TVL) was able to cash in for the game's only first-half score after a curious call from East Juniata coach Simon Cameron.
With just over four minutes to go in the first quarter, Cameron decided to go for a first down on a fourth-and-three at the Tigers' 20-yard line. The Cardinals stuffed a sweep and five plays later quarterback Mason Lyons hit Jed Blankenhorn on a five-yard slant for the touchdown.
East Juniata (0-3, 0-3 TVL) was able to put together a 13-play drive in the second quarter. But four penalties derailed the march, which ended as Jeff Willis missed a 42-yard field goal.
The Tigers were plagued with mistakes and penalties all night. They were whistled for 17 infractions for 122 yards.
Midway through the third quarter, the Cardinals, after another defensive stop gave them great field position, scored as Ryan Eck nailed a 27-yard field goal. After an East Juniata punt, Heim scored four plays later from a yard out to make it 17-0.
Pine Grove scored on its next two possessions. Heim scored from four yards out early in the fourth quarter and a fumble on the ensuing kickoff gave the Cardinals great field position at the Tigers' 22. After an unsportsmanlike penalty against the Tigers, Heim crashed in three plays later and the rout was on.
"We have a lot of kids - juniors and seniors - because of who we had in the past, did not get a lot of playing time on Friday nights," Sampson said. "It's going to take some time and effort and patience on our part to stick with them and build them up."
East Juniata hosts Tri-Valley Friday.