MIFFLINTOWN - When Juniata's Aaron Zendt stretched out to catch a 31-yard pass from quarterback Tyler Clark just before going out of bounds a yard from the end zone, the momentum of Friday's Tri-Valley League contest with Williams Valley briefly swung in the Indians' favor.
It was a big play - the spark Juniata needed to tie the game at 6-6 after Ty Treaster ran the ball in on the following play with just eight seconds remaining in the first half.
But in a game that was defined by defense - a game where both teams stopped scoring threats in the red zone on multiple occasions - it was the big plays that determined the win. And unfortunately for Juniata, in the 18-6 contest it was Williams Valley that came up with more of those plays.
Williams Valley got its first touchdown with 2:41 to go in the second quarter when a possession that was kick started by a 68-yard run from senior Cole Barnhardt resulted in the 6-0 lead.
Barnhardt could run - he had 188 total rushing yards - and he put in Williams Valley's final touchdown in the fourth quarter on a two-yard rush. But the touchdown that really mattered was when the senior put together a series of small rushes to move the ball from Juniata's 40 to the 10 before quarterback Nick Rodichok connected on a pass to Stephen Sedesse for a 12-6 lead at the 3:48 mark in the third quarter.
"I was proud of our defense tonight. I think we found our defense. Except for maybe one big play or so, our defense played one heck of a job," said Juniata coach Gary Klingensmith, whose team worked hard throughout the game to contain the normally high-scoring Vikings.
In the first half, Juniata's defense gave the Vikings trouble. Chad Eberle and Chantz Swartz both got interceptions, Hank Moore and Ed Hampton got key sacks and tough coverage in the end zone kept Williams Valley from scoring from fourth-and-goal, but every time the defense won back the ball, the offense couldn't quite get the score.
"I think the key was on offense we had so many passes right off the fingertips of the receivers. I'm talking maybe five, six passes that were right there, but just off the fingertips," Klingensmith said.
Scoring or not, Juniata was right there in the first half, but the second half spelled the Indians' demise.
Williams Valley switched out starting quarterback Sedesse for Rodichok, and that got the Vikings moving the ball.
This resulted in the Vikings' 12 second-half points, and as the Indians continued struggling to move the ball, the clock wound down before they could attack Williams Valley's lead.
"I've got all these young kids. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees, but I'll tell you, these young kids are going to be good - just give them some time," said Klingensmith, who was proud of the way his team stood with the more experienced Williams Valley.
Juniata (3-5, 3-4) hosts Halifax Oct. 25 for its final home game of the season.
Notes: Juniata and Williams Valley cooperated for a "Pink Out" at Friday's game in order to raise money for the American Cancer Society. At half time $2,300, which was raised at the game from sources including a donation fund and the 50/50 proceeds, were donated toward breast cancer research.