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Indians left it all out on the field

Juniata makes history in postseason run to PIAA Class 4A playoffs

Sentinel photo by MIKE GOSS
Juniata head coach Kurt Condo and son Jacob share a hug after Juniata’s heartbreaking loss to Meadville.

MIFFLINTOWN — Minutes after the final seconds ticked off the clock and the Juniata Indians found their season come to a heartbreaking conclusion, multiple seniors took time to process the end of their careers on the turf at Meadville’s Bender Field.

While suffering a crushing 34-27 defeat to the Bulldogs in the opening round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs, nobody could discount the monumental effort or the sensational things the team accomplished during the 2021 season.

For starters, the Indians found themselves staring a 20-0 deficit last Saturday before rallying back to give one of the best rushing attacks in the state a punch in the mouth. Soon after, Juniata fought all the way back, and were essentially one big play from Meadville away from advancing to the state quarters.

“I’m just so proud of this team’s resiliency to fight and just keep fighting,” Juniata coach Kurt Condo said. “Those are characteristics that make these players and high school kids into really good adults. These guys have had a ton of grit. They’ve invested so much into the program the past couple of years. I’m very happy for them and I know they’re going to be hard workers in everything they do.”

The valiant effort against a state power has seemingly become an expectation inside the Juniata football program, as the Indians fell just one play short in a defeat to Oil City in the PIAA Class 4A District 6-8-9 Sub-Regional the year before.

“We’ve been here before and we’re always in dog fights,” Yaniel Ortiz said following the loss to Meadville. “We’re always the underdogs and we are always facing adversity. They made us drive four hours to come up here and look what we did — we gave them a ball game.”

The Meadville game was far from the only time that the Indians rose to the occasion. Juniata rolled through a regular season despite losing one of its biggest on-field leaders in senior quarterback Jacob Condo for seven weeks.

Junior quarterback Aaron Kanagy helped right the ship while the Juniata defense powered the Indians through a tough schedule as they picked up some signature victories, including a hard-nosed 8-7 win over a traditional state power in Middletown, Liberty Division rivals Upper Dauphin and Newport.

The Indians, with the return of Condo, punished Bellefonte, rolling to an easy victory for their second-straight District 6 title before winning an instant classic over University Prep in the District 6-8-9 Sub-Regional game. The Indians’ scored a touchdown on their possession of overtime before using a goal-line stop to win, 8-0. The victory was Juniata’s first in school history in PIAA play and advanced the Indians to their first state bracket with double-digit victories.

The historical significance wasn’t lost on the players.

“For this group of seniors, it just means so much to us. For us to be the first team in Juniata history to get this far feels really good,” senior Zachary Harr said. “It feels like we did something this year that we can show the community that we aren’t just some small-town school, we can (hang with anyone).”

The Indians’ senior class won two of Juniata’s three district crowns and won 15 of their final 20 games, helping build a culture of winning that coach Kurt Condo is hoping will stick with his team in the upcoming years.

“I’m just elated for (the seniors),” Condo said. “They’ve invested so much time and effort into the program and they’ve worked hard these past three years. They’ve committed themselves and hopefully they’ve been good teachers for the younger kids, the sophomores and the junior high kids coming up through the program. I think we’re sitting in a pretty good spot right now. We have a solid program with a great foundation. As long as the kids keep wanting to work hard, I see a bright future.”

For Jacob Condo, getting the opportunity to return to the field was special, and his high school football career, filled with the Indians’ accomplishments, is something that he will always look back on and cherish.“We’re going to remember this for the rest of our lives,” he said. “This means more to us than almost anything we will do in the future. We will remember this for the rest of our lives, and we’ll be a family forever.”

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