MOUNT UNION - Holding onto a slim 21-20 lead going deep into the final stanza, the Mount Union defense stood tall not once but twice to hold off old nemesis Huntingdon on the opening night of high school football Friday at the Trojans' home field.
After building up quite a rivalry over the years, there was something missing from this year's contest.
For the first time in many a year, the Bearcats had a new head coach directing things from the Huntingdon sidelines. After the retirement of longtime coach Jim Zauzig, Mike Hurdy took the reins of the program. Zauzig left Huntingdon with a career record of 113-55 in his 14 years at the helm.
But Mount Union had a new man in front of the bench, too, also replacing an old favorite for the blue and gold - Corey Wertz, who was thrust into the job when Alan Hartman had to step away for health reasons.
And the night belonged to the Trojans.
Huntingdon was looking for revenge from last season's 32-22 loss at the hands of Mount Union but despite a 138-yard rushing performance by running back Rhett Stetchock, the Bearcats couldn't stay ahead of the home team.
In between the 20s Stetchock performed brilliantly but when the Trojans needed a big stand, they got it.
"It was a great game. It was an absolute great game. We started to pull away a bit and then we made some mistakes and they capitalized on them," Wertz said. "It took pretty much a goal-line stance for our kids to pull it out. I got to give our kids credit. They bent all game but when it came time to step up they did. I give them all the credit in the world."
Going into the third quarter, the Trojans caught a crucial break that would come back to haunt Huntingdon later in the contest.
Facing a fourth down, the Bearcats were deep in their own territory when a snap flew over the punter's head and out of the back of the end zone, giving Mount Union a 14-7 lead.
On the following drive the Trojans made the most of the free kick, starting on the Bearcats' 39.
Four plays later, facing a fourth down, quarterback Trevon Walker sped his way into the end zone for the touchdown. With the PAT, Mount Union upped its lead to two touchdowns.
After Mount Union took an early third quarter lead of 21-7, the Bearcats started to close in.
Huntingdon's offense got a big boost two possessions later as the Bearcat defense forced a fumble deep in Mount Union territory, landing the visitors at the Trojans' 25 to start the drive.
Five plays later, Marcus Yoder scampered his way into the end zone on a 15-yard touchdown run, and with a Devon Claar extra point, the Bearcats were with in striking distance, 21-14, with 5:30 left in the third.
Going into the fourth quarter, Claar would make his presence known both on offense and defense.
On the Trojans' first possession of the quarter, Claar picked off a Walker offering, putting the Bearcats down at the Mount Union 21. Despite pushing the Huntingdon offense back to the 35, the Trojans couldn't find an answer for Claar on this possession.
With 7:51 left, Claar would get his number called as he caught a 35-yard touchdown reception, putting the Bearcats to within one.
However, the PAT would fail, giving the Mount Union players a renewed spirit as the game went into the final moments.
The Bearcats would get one more chance to take the lead, driving the ball down into the Trojans' 6-yard line.
But the Trojan defense, led by the aggressive play of Phil Kyle, stopped their rivals short on a fourth and inches.
Kyle was in the quarterback's face all night, collecting two sacks and forcing Josh Foster to rush is throws.
Despite one last desperate possession with two minutes left, the Bearcats came out empty handed as Nate Goodrich sealed the deal, picking off a desperation pass with 21 ticks left on the clock, icing the victory and adding another exciting chapter to the rivalry.
Mount Union will be back in action Sept. 7 against Juniata Valley.