Tigers blank Halifax, are 2-0

BEAVER SPRINGS – When East Juniata topped Bucktail 35-7 for its season opener Aug. 30, it meant that in one game the Tigers had matched the number of wins they were able to muster in 2012.

Friday, the deal got a little bit sweeter.

In its first home game of the season, East Juniata cruised to a 27-0 win over Tri-Valley League opponent Halifax, meaning the Tigers have not only started out with a 2-0 record – a notable accomplishment after a string of poor seasons in the past – but more importantly it marked East Juniata’s first TVL victory since re-entering the league last year.

“Halifax was a solid team,” East Juniata coach Simon Cameron said. “They hit a lot harder than we expected and we knew it was going to be tough. They notched it up and put up a strong fight. It’s definitely nice to be 2-0.”

Whether the Tigers were surprised by Halifax’s hitting or not, the Wildcats likely felt the same way when, on East Juniata’s first scoring drive, Cameron decided to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal at the 4.

With the scoreless tie it was a bit of a risk, but it paid off for the Tigers when quarterback Josh Zimmerman hit an open Kevin Allen with a four-yard pass to make the score 7-0 with 2:29 left in the first quarter.

On East Juniata’s next chance three incomplete passes from the Wildcat 5 failed before the clock ran out to end the first half, keeping the score at 7-0 headed into the break. But as Cameron explained, East Juniata wanted to put it away early, even if the same strategy didn’t work out on the second try.

“We kind of want to put them away early. And that’s my fault. Next time we need to take the field goals when they’re available. Dalton Rowe kicks field goals for us, so in hindsight we probably should have kicked the field goals, but we were trying to go for the jugular,” he said. “It didn’t quite work out for us. We need experience.”

In the first half, although East Juniata only had a seven-point lead, the defense kept the Wildcats from mounting a single threat as Halifax was able to accrue just 115 offensive yards to East Juniata’s 164 and never got closer than the Tigers’ 25-yard line.

Part of what was responsible for this was East Juniata’s defense – a defense Cameron and his coaching staff revitalized in the preseason – as the line held Halifax’s rushing game to just 40 yards in the first half and 44 in the second.

“The whole goal is that we don’t allow the big plays. And so far, so good. Hopefully we can keep that up, and that’s been the goal in change for this year so far,” Cameron explained.

But if the defense was holding the team’s place, it was the offensive outburst in the second half that put the game away.

In the third quarter David Brantley was responsible for two Tiger touchdowns while accumulating 204 rushing yards. He scampered 10 yards for the first and Rowe connected on the extra point for the 14-0 lead with 7:11 left in the quarter. Then the most beautiful play of the night, later in the quarter, saw Zimmerman let a pass fly deep to Brantley, who couldn’t get his hands on it right away, but tipped it in the air to himself, evaded the defense and ran it into the end zone to increase the lead even further.

The final score was marked by a big breakaway from David Spenkle as he rushed 51 yards for a touchdown.

Despite the excitement Cameron saw things he’d like to see the team improve on.

“It was pretty sloppy on our part.” he said, as the Tigers fumbled five times, four of which resulted in turnovers.

The good news for the Tigers is that on one of those fumbles the very next play Kevin Allen intercepted a pass from Halifax quarterback Mason Erdman – one of four interceptions East Juniata forced throughout the contest – to regain possession immediately.

“(The) big thing is not take plays off,” Cameron said. “There were a couple times where they took plays off. Halifax has some large guys, they stacked the box, they brought the safety in a couple times depending on the play, and we knew that we weren’t going to be able to run inside until we started popping outside.

“Once we started attacking the outside it started to open up a little in there, but they bring the pressure up the middle and the line’s just got to fire off every play.”

East Juniata (2-0, 1-0) hosts Pine Grove Sept. 13.