Indians’ goal is second chance
MIFFLINTOWN — When the PIAA expanded from four to six classes in football this season, Juniata shifted from Class 2A to 3A.
The move up in class meant little change in district opposition. It didn’t have much of an impact on the seeding, either — the Indians rolled to a 7-3 record and find themselves for the second consecutive season holding down the No. 2 spot in the Districts 5-6 tournament.
The reward was a first-round bye and home field for the semifinals, but now it’s time for action as Juniata coach Gary Klingensmith tries to nail down another shot at a district championship berth. Standing in the Indians’ way are the Bedford Bisons — the sixth seed — who stunned third-seeded Tyrone last week, 24-17.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. today at Dietrick Field.
“It’s quite unusual for us to have a game on Saturday night but the kids are itching to get this thing started. It’s going to be quite a challenge,” Klingensmith said. “I’m glad it’s on our home field. Being in the playoffs, on our home field and playing Bedford for the first time, it’s going to be a challenging and exciting game for us.
“I feel the kids who played last year in our run to the finals are a nice advantage for us,” he said. “One of our goals was to come back and get into the finals and a rematch with Central. We have a core of eight or nine players and they are confident, but we can’t take the Bisons lightly.”
Bedford (6-5) averages 24 points a game and 285 yards of total offense — 165 on the ground and 120 through the air. Junior quarterback Davis Kline leads the way with 1,327 yards and nine touchdowns passing with 547 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Kline had rushing and passing touchdowns against the Golden Eagles.
A heavy rotation in the backfield features Davis, senior running backs Chris Ellis (407 yards, four TDs) and Brayden Shaffer (341 yards, three TDs) and sophomore Dylan Arnold (279 yards, four scores). Shaffer is the leading receiver with 34 receptions for 495 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Andrew May and junior Tyler Dawson are other targets of Davis.
Defensively, senior linebacker Tanner Coughenhour (120 tackles, three sacks and one interception) leads coach Kevin Steele’s club. Shaffer has six interceptions, Kline three, while senior defensive linemen Vincent Fernandez and Jordan Easter have eight and five sacks respectively.
“They are a solid outfit on offense and defense. They have no glaring weaknesses. They have nice size, are physical and fast at the skill positions,” Klingensmith said. “They have all the elements of a good team — a solid quarterback, speedy running backs and a nice offensive line. Bedford is a better team than its record indicates. They played a tough schedule. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Juniata scores at an almost 40 points per game clip and averages 355 yards a game — 206 on the ground and 149 passing. The unquestioned offensive leaders of the team are senior quarterback Tyler Clark and senior tailback Fletcher Hart. Clark has 1,301 yards passing with 17 touchdowns and only four picks. Hart collected 1,084 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns in the regular season — 16 on the ground. Senior Spencer Page subs for Hart and has an impressive stat line of 376 yards rushing with five scores.
Junior wideouts Ben Lauver and Bryson Clark are the favorite targets of Tyler Clark. The duo combined for 42 grabs for 688 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The Indians are without versatile senior Isaiah Wagner, who broke his clavicle against Newport. Wagner led the defense with five interceptions. He was also the backup quarterback, played some time at running back, and returned kicks.
“Isaiah is a versatile and talented athlete. He is a leader and will be missed,” Klingensmith said.
Defensive tackle Josh Parson (80 tackles, two sacks) and defensive end Lauver (60 tackles, five sacks) anchor a defense giving up 15 points per game. Linebacker Bryson Clark contributes with 76 tackles and four sacks, while Manuel Rodriguez has four interceptions from his corner spot.
According to Klingensmith, in his 48th year at Juniata, the keys to beating the Bisons are defensive discipline, limiting mistakes and not giving up the big play.
“We have to play disciplined football on defense. Their offense reminds me of ours except they have an option element to it. The key for us is to stop the options and all the motion they run,” Klingensmith said. “It all comes down to defensive discipline. We can’t make a mistake and give up the big play. We have to be on top of our game for sure. It’s going to be a very exciting hard-fought, game.”