Indians’ historic year ends in Meadville
Juniata can’t complete big comeback
MEADVILLE — Juniata’s season was built on dominating its way through the Mid-Penn Liberty Division and continuing to will its way to victory when presented with adversity.
The Indians battled back from a two-score deficit on Saturday afternoon, but a late touchdown run by the Bulldogs’ Khalon Simmons ended a sensational postseason run by Juniata as the Indians fell to Meadville, 34-27, on Saturday afternoon at Bender Field.
Juniata’s identity all season had been built on its tenacious defense and its power running game, but when forced to change in the opening round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs, the Indians were up for the task.
The Indians (10-3) defense gave up 217 yards rushing in the first half, but the defense adjusted and held perhaps the states’ top rushing attack to just 70 yards in the second half — minus Simmons’ big 91-yard score with 2:13 remaining.
Explosive plays proved to be the difference at times, as Simmons rushed for 179 yards and scored four of the Bulldogs’ five touchdowns, including a 79-yard kickoff return immediately after Juniata made it a one-score game in the third. His outside run 91 yards up the Meadville sideline sealed the victory.
“We felt from the very beginning that our backs were up against the wall with the way the opening drives went,” Juniata coach Kurt Condo said. “I’m just so proud of this team’s resiliency to fight and keep fighting. These guys have a ton of grit and they’ve invested so much into the program the past couple of years. I’m very happy for them and I know they will be hard workers in everything that they do.”
The Indians got in a big hole early as a 41-yard rushing touchdown by Griffin Buzzell and a pair of short TD runs by Simmons put the Indians behind three scores. The second score of the first half by Simmons came on a 1-yard rush after an Indians’ punt was blocked and recovered at the Juniata 4-yard line.
Juniata stared adversity in the face down 20-0, before a late first-half drive got the Indians on the board. Quarterback Jacob Condo showed poise in the face of adversity, completing two long passes over the middle of the field to get the Indians’ down into the red zone with just over a minute remaining.
Jordan Dickinson capped off the drive with a 3-yard plunge to get the Indians on the board and the momentum from that drive began to fuel the comeback.
“We just kind of figured out what the puzzle was,” Harr said. “We saw what we needed to run on offense, and on defense, we figured out that where their linemen were pulling, that was where the ball was going the whole time.”
The Indians received the second-half kickoff and went right down the field after catching a break on 4th and short with Meadville having 12 players on the field. Juniata made Meadville pay for the mistake, as a 12-yard completion from Condo to Yaniel Ortiz got Juniata to the Meadville 31.
On the next play, Condo took off up the middle of the field on a QB keeper, rumbling through numerous would-be tacklers for 30 yards, before scoring on a quarterback sneak on the next play to get the Indians within six at 20-14, with 8:09 left in the third.
“We started to spread them out a little bit and were able to make them respect our passing game,” Juniata quarterback Jacob Condo said. “It opened up our runs up the middle there and we were able to get some good gains off them. Our runs were making them respect the pass, and our passes were making them respect the run. We finally were getting some offense together and our adjustments were starting to work.”
The ensuing kickoff saw Simmons go 79 yards for six after a teammate caught the ball on the right side of the field and handed it to Simmons heading the opposite direction. Simmons went largely untouched from there to keep the edge at two touchdowns with 7:57 left to play in the third.
Juniata battled right back with a long 60-yard TD pass from Condo to Ortiz on a screen up the Indians’ sideline to get the score back immediately, as the score was the third in less than a minute of game time.
“We started passing the ball a lot more and the line was blocking really good — it was perfect blocking,” Ortiz said of the TD catch and run. “We had been here before; we’ve always been in dog fights and were always the underdogs. We had to drive four hours to come up here and look what we did — we gave them a ball game.”
Juniata frustrated the Bulldogs (9-3) offense from there as ball carriers could find no momentum as all the energy shifted toward the Indians’ sideline. Juniata began the fourth quarter with a 38-yard carry by Seth Laub, who bulldozed several Bulldogs on the way to paydirt to tie the game up with 11:45 left to play.
From there, the two teams were in a dog fight defensively, as both offenses moved the ball short distances before being forced to punt. Juniata’s best chance to take the lead came late in the fourth when the Indians recovered a botched Meadville snap at the Bulldogs’ 45 with 3:30 left to play.
Juniata went three and out and a great punt by Trent Martin put the Bulldogs back to their own 9 with 2:28 left. The first play from scrimmage was Simmons’ 91-yard TD that put the game on ice.
Juniata had one final drive and the Indians moved 29 yards to the Meadville 38 before an incompletion on 4th and 3 stalled the drive and sealed the Bulldogs’ victory.
“On the last play we had no call on and were just trying to get them to jump,” Ortiz said. “They were a good, disciplined team. They didn’t jump and Jacob audibled to a route, and we ran it. Their linebacker just made a good play to jump it. It was a good play on his side.”
Juniata’s Jacob Condo had a stellar afternoon, racking up 270 yards of total offense through the air and with his legs. Condo had 15 carries for 134 yards and a score, while completing 14-of-31 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown.
Overall, Juniata made history as the first team to win a PIAA game in advancing through the PIAA Class 4A District 6-8-9 Sub Regional. The Indians had also won their third district championship and their second District 6 title in a row.
Coach Condo couldn’t be happier with the steps his program has taken to become elite, battling against the state’s best.
“I’m elated for them,” he said of his senior class. “They’ve invested so much time and effort into this program and they’ve word hard these past three years. Hopefully they’ve been good teachers for the sophomores and for the junior high group coming up through the program. I think that we are sitting in a pretty good spot right now. We have a solid program with a great foundation as long as it keeps kids keep wanting to work hard, I see a bright future.”
Editor’s note: More on the Indians’ historic season will be available in the coming days.
Meadville 34, Juniata 27
Score by quarters
M 7 13 7 7 — 34
J 0 7 13 7 — 27
M — Griffin Buzzell 41 run (Brighton Anderson kick) 9:41
M — Khalon Simmons 3 run (Anderson kick) 7:53
M — Simmons 1 run (Anderson kick blocked) 1:54
J — Jordan Dickinson 3 run (Ben Wagner kick) 0:56
J — Jacob Condo 1 run (Wagner kick) 8:09
M — Simmons 79 kickoff return (Anderson kick) 7:57
J — Yaniel Ortiz 60 catch from Jacob Condo (Wagner kick blocked) 7:25
J — Seth Laub 38 run (Wagner kick) 11:45
M — Simmons 91 run (Anderson kick) 2:13
TEAM STATISTICS M J
First downs 15 13
Total yards 378 334
Rushes-yards 50-378 27-198
Yards passing 0 136
Passing (comp.-att.-int) 0-3-1 14-31-0
Punts-Avg. 1-32 7-30.7
Fumbles-lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties-yards 4-35 8-60
RUSHING — M: Khalon Simmons 24-179 3 TD, Griffin Buzzell 17-123 TD, Amarri Lewis 7-80, Gavin Longstreth 2-(-4); J: Jacob Condo 15-134 TD, Seth Laub 2-38 TD, Jordan Dickinson 4-20 TD, Zachary Harr 5-3, Waylon Ehrenzeller 1-3.
PASSING — M: Gavin Longstreth 0-3-1 0; J: Jacob Condo 14-31-0 136 TD.
RECEIVING — J: Yaniel Ortiz 7-85 TD, Zachary Harr 6-48, Casey Smith 1-3. M: None.