A seasoned offensive line, veteran quarterback and stable of promising running backs have combined to help the Juniata Valley Green Hornets get off to a quick start in the 2012 football season.
Valley has scored 76 points over its first two games, wins over Southern Huntingdon (34-6) in the season opener and Mount Union (42-14) last week. Both were Inter-County Conference, non-division games.
Next up for the Hornets is an Inter-County Conference Silver Division matchup with Claysburg-Kimmel (1-1). Kickoff is set for tonight at 7 p.m. at C-K's Bulldog Stadium.
Claysburg has also played two ICC non-division games, topping Williamsburg, 20-14, in its season opener, but falling to West Branch, 28-12 , last week.
Juniata Valley coach Mike Smith said that his team's offense is beginning to get into a rhythm.
"It's still a work in progress, but the kids on offense are starting to grasp what we're trying to do, and they're moving forward,'' Smith said. "We've been doing some of the same old stuff on offense, but we're mixing in some new stuff.''
Last spring's graduation hit Valley's skill-position ranks hard. The Hornets graduated three top running backs and a wide receiver.
But they returned their entire offensive line intact, as well as starting quarterback Caleb Taylor, a junior this year. Senior running back Brett Grissinger, who saw considerable playing time a year ago, along with junior fullback Jesse Claar, junior halfback Caleb Wagner, and sophomore wingback Aaron Maysonet, have picked up the slack in the Valley running game this year.
Grissinger has rushed for 256 yards on 30 carries and four touchdowns, including two apiece in the first two games. He had 143 yards on 17 carries against Southern Huntingdon and 113 yards on 13 tries against Mount Union.
"Brett Grissinger has a lot of speed, and a lot of natural ability,'' Smith said. "He's very quick and very shifty, and he's learned to get to the hole quickly and make his moves instead of doing too much dancing in the backfield. He's learning the position well, and he has looked strong in our first two games.''
Claar came up big from the fullback spot last week against Mount Union, rushing for 231 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns. He also ran for 91 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown against Southern Huntingdon.
"That was big for us,'' Smith said of Claar's 231-yard game last week. "Having Jesse as a running threat at fullback puts a lot of stress on defenses and keeps teams from just keying on Brett.''
Valley also possesses a decent passing game with the veteran Taylor at quarterback. He's completed six of 12 passes for 131 yards so far this season, while rushing for another 102 yards on 17 carries and three touchdowns.
"Caleb Taylor is very capable of both throwing and running the ball from the quarterback position,'' Smith said.
Valley's offensive line is an experienced one, returning four of five starters across the interior. Senior tackle Johnny Johnson and guard Ian Hawn are four-year starters.
"Our line is full of seniors, and they've been making big holes for me and the rest of our running backs to go through,'' Grissinger said.
Claysburg-Kimmel coach Joe Kitt is aware of that.
"Their offensive line is tremendous,'' Kitt said. "They have nice size and a lot of experience there. Their offensive line is one of my biggest concerns heading into this game.''
Claysburg has some offensive balance of its own. Senior running back Zach Helsel has rushed for 198 yards on 38 carries and three touchdowns in two games, while senior quarterback Trey Claar completed 12 of 26 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown in last week's game.
"Their running back, Helsel, is a hard runner, and their quarterback is very capable of throwing the ball downfield,'' Smith said. "Our defense is really going to be up against it.''