Tigers break down late, fall to Cardinals

BEAVER SPRINGS – When East Juniata hosted Tri-Valley League opponent Pine Grove Friday, a perfect record was on the line for both teams.

With the Tigers and Cardinals both at 2-0, both fought fiercely to keep the loss off their records in the young season, but unfortunately for East Juniata it was Pine Grove that came out on top in the 33-14 contest.

Down 21-14 at the end of the third, East Juniata was still within striking distance at the beginning of the final stanza, but the last 12 minutes took it out of the Tigers as their defense started to wear down and the Cardinals took advantage to put up 12 more points for the win.

Inheriting the ball on East Juniata’s 10-yard line after a decent run to end the third, the Cardinals struck early in the fourth when Ryan Heim ran the ball to the 1-yard line on the first carry of the quarter, then quarterback Steve Zimmerman took it in himself to increase Pine Grove’s lead.

The Cardinals missed the extra point on a bad snap, but five minutes later they were back at it when a fruitless East Juniata possession landed the Cardinals with the ball on the Tigers’ 40-yard line, and a quick succession of plays soon had Heim making a five-yard run into the end zone to stretch the lead to the final margin.

Heim finished the game with 168 yards on 24 carries, and it only looked easier and easier for him as the game progressed and the holes in East Juniata’s defense really started to open up.

“My guys stayed in there until about the third quarter, and we just got worn down,” East Juniata coach Simon Cameron said.

But even if missed tackles and holes in the coverage hurt East Juniata on the defensive end, the Tigers also couldn’t keep up with Pine Grove on the offensive end.

A loss on downs, an overturned fumble and an interception all hurt East Juniata as it struggled to keep up with Pine Grove in any offensive category – with 209 total yards the Tigers mustered just over half of the Cardinals’ 388 – but they weren’t without their chances.

Down 21-7 in the third quarter, David Brantley gave the Tigers their best chance for a comeback when from the Tigers’ own 40, Brantley took a run down the left side, evading one tackle after another, to break through Pine Grove’s line and take it all the way to the end zone.

With that jump start, Dalton Rowe then placed a perfect on-side kick that the Tigers recovered on the 50-yard line to put them in position to even the score, but the series eventually resulted in a turnover on a fumble.

“It just wasn’t going our way tonight. We got ourselves back in there, but ultimately when it came down to it they got the pressure in our backfield,” Cameron said. “And we had trouble getting the ball out all night, we had wide open receivers but the quarterback just couldn’t get to them.”

Pressure on the quarterback was one of Pine Grove’s main tactics throughout the game, but the Tigers successfully worked past it on their first scoring drive.

With the ball on their own 44 in the second quarter, the Tigers put together one of their nicest drives when quarterback Josh Zimmerman went with the halfback option to Brantley, who threw downfield for a 47-yard completion to Matt Aurand. With the ball then on the nine, Brantley got open in the endzone, and Zimmerman connected for the Tigers’ first touchdown.

But as Cameron explained, in most other cases Zimmerman didn’t have the time he needed to make the plays.

“Some of our plays that we ran – even our regular plays – the quarterback was getting sacked as he was handing off the ball. And any time the quarterback’s getting hit as he’s handing off the ball, you know you’re in for a long night. (Pine Grove) came out, they hit hard. You’ve got to give them credit for it,” he said.

Pine Grove’s other touch downs included two on rushing plays by Heim in the second quarter and a 38-yard pass to Jed Blankenhorn in the third.

Blankenhorn – who also made the catch from Steve Zimmerman for the two-point conversion – made the catch after Brantley jumped up for the attempted interception, but tipped the ball into the air where Blankenhorn was able to make the grab and dive into the end zone.

East Juniata (2-1, 1-1) has its second road game of the season when it travels to Tri-Valley Sept. 20.