BLOOMSBURG - After trading touchdowns in the first quarter - then getting a bit lucky when a Columbia-Montour Vo-Tech receiver let a fourth-down pass go through his hands - East Juniata took over on its own 21 as the second quarter got under way at Wen Cerra Field Saturday.
The Tigers used 17 plays - and most of the rest of the half - to travel 69 yards, as Wade Truitt and Nick Kratzer took turns running the ball past a seemingly baffled Tech defense. But when an untimely fumble cost the Tigers that drive at the Tech 5, a game that already had District 4 playoff implications - not to mention a say in the race to unseat defending All-American Football Conference champ Northwest - suddenly got serious.
And in the second half, so did East Juniata. Workhorse Truitt put up 106 yards on 30 carries and Kyle Pannebaker threw two touchdown passes as the Tigers (3-1, 3-0 AAFC) survived the afternoon with a 16-6 win.
"That's definitely not the way you want to end a half," East Juniata coach Tom Feltman said. "That could have been a very pivotal moment."
The second half proved to be a huge letdown for the Rams, who scored first. That came on the second drive of the game, East Juniata's first. The Tigers took a short-field kick across the 50, the first display of the Truitt-Kratzer tandem at work. But the first time Pannebaker looked up, Tech's Tyler Solomon stared him down. The junior defensive back grabbed the ball at the Rams' 35 and took it the distance for a 6-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive, East Juniata matched that. Seven rushing plays gave the Tigers a first down inside the Tech 30, and Pannebaker went up top again. This time he found Dexter Herman in the corner of the field just outside the end zone, and the senior wideout pulled down a tough ball to ties the score.
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East Juniata plays at Bucktail at 7 p.m. on Friday night.
"Overall, I was very pleased with the way we played today," Feltman said. "We still had a couple mistakes, but it was a total team effort. We can enjoy this for a couple days and then get ready for Bucktail."
The second half opened with two short possessions that ended up in traded punts, then it was East Juniata's turn again. Truitt again proved to be crucial to the offense, but not on the ground this time - he went under center and threw a 48-yard pass to Herman, and the Tigers were knocking on the door again. Truitt carried it four more times before Pannebaker lofted his second scoring ball of the afternoon, this time a six-yarder to Sam Wray.
Wray, as it turns out, would play a key role in preventing the Rams from scoring again. As with the Tigers earlier in the game, turnovers - in the form of two Wray interceptions - all but sealed the win for the visitors.
After the go-ahead touchdown, the Rams moved the ball half the length of the field, landing at the Tiger 22. But on fourth-and-10, an incomplete pass ended the effort. The next East Juniata campaign ended similarly, but then on second down from the Tech 15, Rams' quarterback John Gavin was intercepted by Wray to give the Tigers a very short field.
Truitt ended that drive with a successful 25-yard field goal, which made the final score. But the Rams still had plenty of time - or seemed to, until two plays later when Wray picked another one. The final possession by the home team ended with another interception, this time out of a crowd from both sides that bobbled the pigskin like a volleyball until East Juniata ended up with it, and ended the game.
"The defense, I thought, almost for the entire game played well," Feltman said. "We gave up some short stuff, but as long as we don't give up the long ball I feel very good about it. Let them earn their yards."