BEAVER SPRINGS - The stadium was filled with fans ready to burst out of their seats. The only question was whether the emotions of the East Juniata Tigers fans would be positive or negative.
The Tigers had fought back from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Bucktail and now stood a mere four yards from a victory with less than a minute remaining.
Quarterback Austin Bennett found Kevin Allen in the end zone for the game-winning score with 12 seconds left, lifting East Juniata to a 27-22 win over Bucktail in coach Simon Cameron's debut.
The Tigers took over with 2:59 remaining after stopping Bucktail on three straight plays and forcing the Bucks to punt. As was the case in the previous three quarters, David Brantley led the Tigers' rushing attack with option keepers from Bennett sprinkled in. In eight rushing plays, the Tigers moved the ball from midfield to the 4-yard line, setting the scene for late heroics.
"I knew it was now or never," Bennett said. "If we didn't complete that (pass), we were done."
Cameron said the team stayed positive throughout the game.
"At no point did we think we were going to lose," he said.
With slightly less than 10 minutes left, Bennett began to take control of the game and turn the tide. Starting from their own 25-yard line, the Tigers spread the ball around their backfield and slowly moved the ball downfield.
Facing a fourth-and-3 and down two scores, Bennett found a crease in the defense and raced 33 yards to close the gap to three. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful but momentum had shifted.
The Tigers started the game on a long drive to excite the home crowd. On the 12-play, 72-yard drive, Logan Hambright broke off a 23-yard scamper to move the ball into opposing territory. Ten plays later, Bennett called his own number and found paydirt from five yards out to give the Tigers an early 7-0 advantage.
Late in first half, Bucktail decided to add a wrinkle to its offense after a touchdown on the kick return was called back due to a penalty. Chuck Probst received the snap and pitched to Ryan Bratton, who threw to an open Willie Hopkins for a 65-yard touchdown to give the Bucks an 8-7 lead.
Not to be outdone in the quick-strike, big play department, Brantley benefitted from strong blocking from his offensive line to spring him to a 70-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers back ahead 13-8 with 2:01 left in the first half. Bucktail responded by driving 53 yards in three plays to take a 16-13 lead into halftime. Allen was stopped one yard shy of the end zone on a pass from Bennett as time expired on the first half.
Bratton connected with Probst on a 27-yard pitch and catch to extend the Bucktail lead to nine, 22-13, with 9:57 left in the fourth quarter.
Brantley found effective running lanes throughout the game, ending his night with 161 yards on 14 attempts and a touchdown. Brantley's preformance earned the praise of his coach.
"David did awesome for us," Cameron said. "He stepped up, by all means an outstanding performance."