Juniata survives Tigers’ scoreboard scare

MIFFLINTOWN – Yogi Berra would have loved Friday’s Tri-Valley League showdown between Juniata and East Juniata.

Why? Because this intracounty rivalry wasn’t over ’til it was over.

And that wasn’t until just 1:14 was showing on the brand new scoreboard at Dietrick Field.

Perhaps the teams just wanted to make sure it could show all the numbers – there were plenty in the game, which ended with a scant lead in Juniata’s favor, 47-44.

Talk in the press box was that the combined 91 points is probably the most the two teams have ever scored in a game against one another.

And it just gets crazier – East Juniata, which had plenty of chances to win the game, was only four points behind at the half, and that was without a single offensive touchdown.

But the real story of this game is the same one that has defined the Tri-Valley League season: No one wants to play defense.

Juniata strolled down the field in the game’s opening drive, setting the tone with the rushing tandem of Chad Eberle (155 yards) and Ty Treaster (138 yards) doing most of the work. Treaster got the call to cross the goal line first.

“The guys stepped up and did a good job,” Juniata coach Gary Klingensmith said. “The passing was a little bit off tonight but I thought we could beat them on the ground.”

The Tigers’ first possession was one play – a turnover, after each team got its first penalty of the game. For East Juniata, it was just the start as far as giving the ball away. The Tigers fumbled three times, losing two of them, and tossed a pair of interceptions.

“We shot ourselves in the foot – we definitely gave this game away,” East Juniata coach Simon Cameron said.

The one the Tigers held on to was an oddity. East Juniata took over on downs at its own 7-yard line, and was facing third-and-6 when Josh Zimmerman connected with David Brantley for a 52-yard gain, then hit Kevin Allen and Matt Aurand on consecutive passes on the way to the end zone – where Aurand dropped the ball.

Teammate Andrew Karchner jumped on it, tying the game.

The second quarter? Josh Newcamp put Juniata ahead on a one-yard dash. Dalton Rowe kept East Juniata in the game with a 14-yard field goal. Eberle went 14 to extend the lead.

But no one could have foreseen the final 40 seconds of the half. Eberle intercepted a pass. Had a 19-yard scamper and then another, the second coming back on a penalty. With just a few ticks left before the marching band, the Indians would have been wise to sit on the ball.

Wisdom that, apparently, wasn’t in Juniata’s playbook.

Tyler Clark put the ball in the air, and East Juniata’s Kevin Allen found it. After snatching the ball, he sprung up to avoid touching his knees to the ground and went the distance.

The Tigers turned that opportunity into a lead when the teams came back to the field. Taking the ball first, they moved 68 yards in just four plays – Brantley again the key, with a 24-yard jaunt to make it 27-21.

“They came to play,” Klingensmith said. “Brantley’s pretty darned dangerous with that kind of speed.”

That was the first time the same team scored consecutively in the game. Juniata got the next three.

The kickoff after Brantley’s touchdown would have been an equalizer if not for Rowe, the kicker, who stopped Patrick O’Donnell on the return. But Treaster and Eberle did their thing again, and Josh Parson carried the ball in to give Juniata a lead that, while challenged, was not relinquished the rest of the game.

Cameron looked back to defense – the inability to stop the run – as a problem that plagued his team.

“Part of that was intensity. We did have some injuries on defense, moved people around,” he said. “We had some decent flow, we just didn’t have the wrapups. To Juniata’s credit … their kids ran hard.”

Not that Klingensmith felt much better about his team’s defense, which allowed 205 passing yards from four different East Juniata arms.

“Defense has been our Achilles’ heel,” he admitted. “We’ve got a lot of young kids playing there – they’re not experienced; they make mistakes. Give them two more years.”

Eberle returned a punt for a touchdown; Clark and Treaster each ran one, sandwiched around a hookup between Aurand and Brantley, throwing a halfback option, as the game went into the final stanza. Juniata’s biggest lead came after Clark’s score at 17 points; the margin was 16 after Treaster’s run.

But the Tigers weren’t done, and Cameron wasn’t afraid to dig into the trick bag – the option pass seemed almost normal compared to the swinging-gate lineups, fakes and a reverse that East Juniata tried.

“My guys aren’t going to be bigger than the other guys. We’ve got to take it to them,” Cameron said. “We can be competitive, but we’re still not to the point we can overpower teams. We’ve got to play smarter. We’ve got to play aggressive. And we’ve got to have a lot of tricks.”

An 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown – Brantley; big surprise – and a Reed Bruner toss to Colton Snook made what would stand as the final score, only because the Indians were able to field the expected onside kick with that 1:14 left to play.

“I told the boys, ‘just win by one. Score more points than they do,'” Klingensmith said. “Every game now, five games, has been within a touchdown.”