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Indians implode, fall to Wildcats

Sentinel photo by MIKE GOSS
Juniata's Bryce Rush and Halifax's Zane Cassell battle for control of the ball.

MIFFLINTOWN–A night that began in celebration ended in hardship for the Juniata Indians, who held their Senior Night before Monday’s game against Halifax.

Stuart Dare scored the first goal of the game with a little more than 12 mintues remaining to give Juniata a 1-0 lead and all the Indians needed to do was play keep away and the win would be theirs.

Halifax, the defending Tri-Valley League champions scored three times in the final four minutes of the game to steal the win and stun the Indians.

After Dare gave Juniata the lead, coach Jared Byler thought his team eased off the break, assuming they could run out the clock. The Indians clamped down on Halifax for a majority of the game, so the late goals came seemingly out of nowhere.

“That’s just a mindset. We were weak in getting aggressive and getting the ball cleared out,” Byler said. “In those situations you have to be ruthless, relentless and be aggressive and go get it.”

The Indians (5-5 overall, 4-5 Tri-Valley League) had abandoned the defense that had proven effective for the first 75 minutes of the game and allowed a resilient Halifax team to take advantage of Juniata’s lax defense.

“We just stood back and allowed Halifax to ping one in. If we had been aggressive and gone after it, we probably could have cleared the ball out,” Byler said. “That’s just Halifax hustling and us not.”

With the playing conditions being cold and rainy, the first half of play was not sharp for either side. Players were missing passes, letting balls get by them and making mistakes in front of their own goals. But neither side was able to take advantages of the others’ mistakes.

Juniata put the ball in the net with under two minutes left in the first half, but the goal was called off due to a player being offsides. It was clear enough of a violation that the Juniata side didn’t argue the call.

Coming out of halftime, Juniata picked up its play, limiting its mistakes and spending most of the 40 minutes on the offensive. Dare and Jelvin Cardenas each had good looks throughout the half, but neither capitalized until there was a little over 12 minutes remaining.

A penalty was called on Halifax that allowed Dare to take a penalty kick. Dare kept the ball low, beating the Wildcats’ goalie Jacob Lindsey, to give the Indians the lead.

Cardenas and Brant Walters each had a chance to give Juniata some breathing room but neither connected.

With 3:41 left on the clock, Aidan Baer found himself with the ball in front of the net and hit quick shot got passed Johnny Dessin and knotted the game at one.

Juniata looked as if it was planning to play into overtime, but the Wildcats wanted to end the game earlier. Off of a corner, Halifax’ Colby Enders corralled the loose ball and had just enough room to take a shot, finding the back of the net, and sending the Halifax faithful into an uproar.

This gave Halifax the lead with 56 seconds left.

“The last 10 minutes of the game is our Achilles’ heel. For a long time, the first 10 minutes of a game was our weakest point and now it’s the last 10 minutes,” Byler said. “This is now our fourth loss that we have that has come in the last 10 minutes. That comes down to the mindset of being ruthless and relentless and being gritty and having to play the whole game.”

As time was winding down the Wildcats took one last chance to stick it to Juniata as Ethan McCarron fired a long shot which got over the head of Dessin and settled in the back of the net.

The stunned silence of the Juniata sideline told the story of the defending district champs trying to piece everything together. The team now sits at 5-5, while scoring an average of 2.2 goals per game and with the upcoming schedule anything but certain, Juniata will have to step up, most notably on offense.

“We’re kind of a broken record,” Byler said about the coaches’ messages to their players. “We can do everything right, but right now, we just can’t score goals.”

Halifax 3, Juniata 1

H 0 3–3

J 0 1–1

Goals: H–Aidan Baer, Colby Enders, Ethan McCarron; J–Stuart Dare. Shots: 6-6. Corners: J 5-3. Saves: H-6 (Jacob Lindsey), J-5 (Johnny Dessin).

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