MIFFLINTOWN – Juniata knew two things about District 6 opponent Penns Valley going into the teams’ season opener Friday – the Rams could throw the ball, and they could run it.
The only question that remained was whether or not the rebuilding Indians could match Penns Valley’s offensive abilities.
The question was answered pretty quickly and not in a way any Juniata fan wanted to see. Star rusher Neil Bodley carried the ball for 13 yards on Juniata’s first offensive possession of the game, but aggravated a hamstring injury in the process to take him out of the game, significantly reducing the Indians’ running threat.
But freshman quarterback Tyler Clark was still an unknown for Juniata, and in a nice second-half effort he threw one of Juniata’s two touchdowns and connected on a two-point conversion to put the Indians on the board, but it wasn’t quite enough to top the Rams, who took the win, 21-16.
Before Juniata made the game close, Penns Valley took a big lead under the leadership of senior quarterback Cameron Tobias. The Rams dominated the first half – putting up a 14-0 score in the frame – by taking advantage of a slew of Juniata missed tackles.
“We told the kids at the halftime their tackles were too high. You’re trying to get the jerseys – get the legs,” Juniata coach Gary Klingensmith said.
Juniata adjusted away from its defensive troubles in the second half, but before that could happen, Penns Valley lit up the scoreboard first when Tobias connected with a wide-open Corey Hazel for a 31-yard pass play at 11:27 in the second quarter to make it 7-0 after Andrew Deardorff kicked the extra point.
The second score put Penns Valley up 14-0 when Sean Beamesderfer caught a 12-yard pass from Tobias and Deardorff again kicked the extra point with nine seconds left in the half.
A 35-yard passing play to Taylor Collison then gave Penns Valley the giant lead as the Indians still floundered scoreless with 4:47 left in the third quarter, but as the Indians started to resurge it would turn out that lead is just what the Rams would need to pull out the win.
“I thought that we were a little bit erratic at places. The first half some things came together, but they made some nice adjustments at halftime and those adjustments impacted what were were able to do or not able to do the second half,” Penns Valley coach Martin Tobias said.
Without Bodley on the field, the Indians had to spread out the running game between several carriers and rely on Clark to put together the passes, and while their efforts had been fruitless for three quarters, after Penns Valley’s final score it all started to come together.
On the Indians’ next possession, Clark got things started with a 30-yard rush to put his team on the Penns Valley 35-yard line. A sack from Corey Hazel put Juniata back at the 40, but one play later Juniata’s Chad Eberle got open for a 13-yard pass to put the Indians in the red zone.
Ty Treaster then kept the Indians alive with a two-yard catch to give the Indians a first down, and a short run and two incomplete passes later, Clark threw a rocket to Sheldon Miller in the end zone to put the Indians on the board.
Chad Eberle ran the ball in for the two-point conversion, and it was just what the Indians needed.
Later in the third quarter a series of small running plays from Josh Newcamp, Clark, Eberle and Treaster put the Indians on the Rams’ 30-yard line, then Treaster busted through the line for a second Juniata touchdown.
Clark then connected with Miller for the second time on the conversion, slicing Penns Valley’s lead to 21-16.
“He did a great job,” Juniata coach Gary Klingensmith said of his freshman quarterback. “He settled down once he got going, and he started looking for his receivers more.”
With less then seven minutes left to play, Penns Valley needed to keep Juniata off the board, but a loss on downs in its next possession looked grim for the Rams.
The situation only got worse when Juniata got a huge first down on a pass interference call against the Rams that kept the Indians fighting to take the lead.
However, as Juniata charged forward – making it all the way to the Rams’ 30-yard line – a sack by Kevin Butts forced the Indians to punt the ball away on fourth and long, giving up the final possession to Penns Valley.
“That was huge,” Martin Tobias said of the sack. “There were a number of plays along the way – there were two sacks that came at critical times – but the one at the end to force them to punt really was…that kind of put the nail in the coffin.”
Klingensmith also didn’t miss out on the importance of his team’s last offensive possession.
“We needed to get the ball one last time. I thought if we could get the ball one last time we could win,” he said.
Juniata (0-1) gets back in action Sept. 6 at Tri-Valley.