ELLIOTTSBURG - Heading into the CFA Federal Conference Midget Super Bowl, Juniata was a pronounced underdog. The Indians' opponent, the Greenwood Buffaloes, had cruised through the regular season with a perfect 9-0 mark and pitched shutouts against both Susquenita and Halifax in the playoffs, and had easily knocked off the Indians in regular season play by a 26-4 count.
However, on Saturday Juniata delivered a scrappy performance that featured a pair of touchdown passes by Isaiah Wagner - who completed 12 of 28 attempts for 193 yards - and a last minute goal-line stand to clinch the title, 22-20.
"It was a total team effort," Little Indians skipper Bob Becker said. "We are proud of every last one of them. They did everything we asked and they showed no quit. It was all heart."
Sentinel photo by LARRY YOHN
Juniata’s Bryce Leonard (12) carries the ball downfield as Greenwood defenders Drew Paden (5) and Lamar Williams (24) close in during the Federal Midget Super Bowl Saturday in Elliottsburg. Juniata won the contest, 22-20.
Early on it appeared as if Greenwood would keep rolling along. Drew Paden gave the Buffaloes an early lead as he broke loose for a 79-yard scoring jaunt in the first quarter. Kicker Aaron Foose scooped up a bad snap and darted in for the conversion to make the score 7-0.
The Indians answered back with a second quarter score of their own as Wagner found Bryce Leonard for a 12-yard scoring strike. Wagner added the two-point kick to put the Indians in front 8-7. This was the first touchdown Greenwood had given up all season.
Juniata then got a break when the ensuing kickoff went high in the air, hit right on the 50 and bounced backwards to be recovered by Wagner.
However, Juniata was unable to capitalize as Tevin Gonzalez intercepted Wagner's fourth down heave.
Wagner gained the ball right back when he intercepted Parker Taylor on the very next play to quash the Buffalo threat.
The Indians quickly punted and Paden's 18-yard dart on fourth-and-eight got Greenwood near midfield, but time expired as Taylor's Hail Mary went unanswered.
Greenwood's opening possession of the second half was derailed by a pair of false starts that prevented the Buffaloes from getting a first down despite a pair of seven-yard runs by Foose and Paden.
The stop on downs allowed the Indians to start at the Buffalo 38. A pair of completions to Ben Lauver - who caught four passes overall for 57 yards - totaling 29 yards put Juniata in the red zone and a 13-yard strike to Ethan Grove stretched the Juniata lead to 14-7.
Lamar Williams blocked the extra point attempt to keep it a one score game.
"I completely revamped our offense for this game," Juniata offensive coordinator Jack Clark said. "We gave them a look they hadn't seen before. We spread everything out and allowed our guys to get in space, and they made plays."
Greenwood responded quickly as Paden exploded for a 74-yard touchdown on the next offensive play. On the PAT, Foose took the snap in kick formation and beat the defense to the corner of the end zone to tie the game at 14 all.
"Paden had an outstanding game," Greenwood coach Barry Donbaugh said. "He's a product of our system; he has been with us since Smurfs."
Gonzalez's second interception ended the next Indian possession, but Foose fumbled at the end of a 13-yard run and Wagner recovered.
Wagner then dialed up Grove for 19 yards. However, two plays later Foose sacked and stripped Wagner. Kaleb Berkich was quick to scoop up the loose ball and dashed 70 yards the other way to put Greenwood back on top 20-14.
Ethan Kint-O'Donnell blocked the Buffalo extra point attempt to limit the damage.
Unfazed, Wagner hit Leonard for 29 yard to cross midfield. He then scrambled for a pair to convert a fourth-and-two with a personal foul facemask tacked on to the end.
Another Wagner keeper moved the ball to the seven, and Zac Piper, who finished with 47 yards on 13 totes, plowed in from there to tie the game.
Wagner then added the two-point kick to put the Little Indians up 22-20.
"We considered just going for one," Becker said. "But we had been working on the kicking game all year. (Wagner) was not our starting kicker for the season, but we decided to make the switch for tonight."
The switch paid off.
Greenwood had one last chance to win the game as Paden returned the subsequent kickoff 47 yards to put the Buffaloes in business at the Indian 28.
Three straight runs moved the ball the 16 and a 15-yard Paden blast left the Buffs knocking on the door at the one-yard line.
But the Indians made a stand to maintain the win.
Piper, who was named game MVP, shot the gap and caught Gary Johnson for a four-yard loss. Then he teamed with Kint-O'Donnell to sack Taylor for a nine-yard loss. Piper then stopped Paden for another three-yard loss and Taylor's fourth-down heave on the last play of the game was intercepted by Wagner to seal the victory.