HUNTINGDON - With one winning season in the last 21 years and seven wins over the last eight campaigns, one might think Juniata College football would be satisfied just to be competitive.
The bar, though, is being raised for the Eagles, as was evident in the comments and the emotions following Saturday afternoon's home opener at the revamped and renamed Goodman Field at Knox Stadium.
Bolstered by a strong front seven on defense and emerging quarterback Ward Udinsky, the Eagles outgained visiting Dickinson almost two-to-one and held the lead late in the third quarter. Juniata, though, had two punts blocked for Red Devil touchdowns in the last 14 minutes and their modest but significant two-game winning streak came to an end, 24-17.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Juniata receiver Julian Valdiserri is tackled by Dickinson’s Jack Margavitch Saturday.
"There's no moral victories. None. This program is far beyond that. We stay focused on the process, and we didn't do the process well today," second-year Eagles coach Tim Launtz said. "It'd be an injustice to our kids, as hard as they worked, to talk about moral victories."
More than the steady rain in the first half on Juniata's brand new artificial surface, the loss put a damper on a promising performance from Udinsky.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pound sophomore from Doylestown passed for 243 yards - nine of his 21 completions going to Dominic Bornman for 123 yards - and rushed for 128. He engineered a pair of long second-half drives, finishing a 12-play, 75-yard march with a fourth-and-goal sneak from the 1 at the beginning of the third quarter to give Juniata a 10-7 lead and capping a 15-play, 69-yarder by rolling right and finding Kyle Shuck for a 5-yard scoring pass to knot the score at 17 with 4:33 left.
Ulinsky also was picked off four times, but one of those went through the hands of receiver Julian Valdiserri, and another came with 12.2 seconds to play as he tried to quickly rally the Eagles down the field to force overtime but overshot his receiver.
"It hurts a lot right now. We thought we had it today. I thought we had it today. We just didn't play as a team in all facets of the game," Ulinsky said.
After losing to Dickinson 35-6 a year ago, it looked like Juniata and the Red Devils were going to play beyond regulation when Eagle punter Jonah Plymire dropped back just inside his own 20 with a minute to play. However, he mishandled the snap, and, by the time he recovered, Dickinson defensive lineman Walker Moriarty, a thorn in Juniata's side all game with half a sack and three batted passes, was there to block it. Jake Myers fell on it in the end zone for the lead.
Earlier in the quarter, Will Erikson scooped up another blocked punt at the 11 and ran it in to put Dickinson ahead, 17-10.
"I don't know the last time we blocked two punts for a touchdown in a game. Special teams are huge," said Darwin Breaux, in his 20th year coaching the Devils. "Their defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage for the most part. Coach Launtz is doing a heck of a job."
Juniata held Dickinson to 187 yards. The Eagles defensive line and linebacking corps - which includes area products Zach Boyd (Juniata Valley), Jared Shope (Altoona), Noah Walstrom (Altoona) and Ethan Wilt (Altoona) - combined for 39 tackles, three sacks and four tackles for loss.
After giving up a long scoring drive on Dickinson's first possession, Juniata's defense stepped up to stuff the Devils on fourth-and-goal at the one and later got the Eagles on the board when Kevin Gorman sacked Cole Ahnell in the end zone at 5:22 of the second quarter.
"It's a tough [loss] to swallow, knowing we came out and the defense played great," Gorman said. "We've got to keep working. This group wants to push Juniata football to the next level. [Our defense] has a lot of experience."
The Eagles had a couple of great scoring chances in the first half go for naught. In the first quarter, Udinski took a quarterback draw 48 yards to the Dickinson 25. However, three plays later, Udinski and his receiver read the coverage differently, leading to Mitch Helmandollar making his first of two interceptions uncontested in the end zone.
Udinski had Juniata on the doorstep again in the second, hitting Bornman down the seam for 49 yards, giving the Eagles first-and-goal at the 6. A hold set Juniata back, though, after which Udinski tried to squeeze an ill-advised pass into coverage near the goal line, where Pat McBreen picked it off.
"I think [winning] is definitely an attitude that's learned, and it's one that in the past maybe was forgotten here. But we're learning it," Ulinsky said. "The team is starting to understand what winning feels like. Hopefully, losing today will make us more hungry to get another win."
Game notes: Central Cambria's band performed as Juniata's guest. ... The Eagles have a tough test next week, going to Gettysburg.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Dickinson7 0 3 14 - 24
Juniata0 2 8 7 - 17
D-Capone 3 run (Kaminski kick), 9:33.
J-Safety, Gorman sacked Ahnell in end zone, 5:22.
J-Udinski 1 run (Udinski run), 8:36.
D-Kaminski 20 FG, 0:1.9.
D-Erikson 11 blocked punt return (Kaminski kick), 13:23.
J-Shuck 5 pass from Udinski (Andrews kick), 4:33.
D-Myers recovered blocked punt in end zone (Kaminski kick), 0:52.
RUSHING: Dickinson-Licata 11-53, Ahnell 20-34, Wilson 2-6, Capone 3-2, Smith 1-1, TEAM 3-(-3). Juniata-Udinski 24-128, McCaulley 8-13, John 1-1, Alston 1-(-1), TEAM 2-(-33).
PASSING: Dickinson-Ahnell 8-14-0-94. Juniata-Udinski 21-39-4-243.
RECEIVING: Dickinson- Licata 2-10, Wood 1-15, McMahon 1-14, Smolinsky 1-2, Ondo 2-46. Juniata-Bornman 9-123, McCaulley 2-13, Valdiserri 6-81, Slutter 1-7, Shuck 2-16, Popley 1-3.
INTERCEPTIONS: Dickinson-Helmandollar 2-0, McBreen 1-4. Juniata-none.
Third down conv.3-135-17
Fourth down conv.0-22-3
Time of poss.25:2234:38