HUNTINGDON - For years, the Juniata College football team has struggled to hang with the top teams in the Centennial Conference. But the Eagles' fortunes have certainly changed this season.
The Eagles are now at the top of the pecking order in the conference.
Already 2-0 for the first time since 2002, the Eagles made it 3-0 on a rainy, battleship gray Saturday afternoon by beating Gettysburg College, 38-16, thanks to Ward Udinski's four touchdown passes and a TD run, a balanced offense of 240 yards passing and 237 yards rushing and a hard-hitting defense that forced four turnovers.
The three wins have already matched last season's total.
"I think we're surprising everybody in the conference," senior tailback Zach McCaulley, of Bellwood, said, "but all that matters is that we're not surprising ourselves. We knew in the spring that we had a real good team, and we brought even better freshmen to contribute."
"I don't think anybody inside this team or inside the coaching staff is surprised by that," Udinski said. "I think a lot of people around this conference might be surprised by that, but we know our potential. We still have a lot of season ahead of us. We've got to take these three wins in stride."
The win over the Bullets (1-2) snapped a seven-game losing streak in the series, including the last six since Juniata joined the conference in 2007.
Udinski, a 6-foot-2 junior who leads the conference in passing, continued his early-season success with touchdown passes to four different receivers - 17 yards to DaVon Mitchell on the first series, 27 yards to Aaron O'Brien for the second score, 33 yards to Colton Myers for the third TD and 16 yards to Kyle Schuck for the fourth. He also ran for 76 yards on 13 carries.
"I don't want to make any excuses with the elements today," Udinski said, "but I had some pretty bad throws, but my receivers bailed me out a lot. Overall, I think it's about leading this football team, and I think I'm doing a pretty good job of that so far."
If teams should happen to stop the pass, they face a problem in trying to stop Juniata's three-tailback rotation of McCaulley, Philipsburg-Osceola grad Michael John and Deonte Alston, both of whom are sophomores.
McCaulley, who had a 40-yard run on the first series, led the Eagles in rushing with 103 yards on 16 carries. Alston finished with 54 yards on 13 carries, and John had 7 yards on six carries. Last week against Dickinson, all three had 11 carries, and it was John leading the ground attack with 72 yards.
"We alternate every other series, and it's pretty scripted," McCaulley said. "That way, you always have fresh legs. I think all three of us are very capable backs. They've got a really good future. It's really hard to stop when have three guys who can all run. And, of course, the O-line is making holes, and we're just lucky enough to hit them."
"I really believe for us to have continued success, we have to be able to run the ball," Juniata coach Tim Launtz said. "We were able to run the ball, and that helped us immensely. We have three guys who can play. If one gets a hot hand, we'll ride it a little bit longer."
The Bullets, who came in leading the conference in offense (569.5 yards per game), scored in the first quarter on an 18-yard pass from Zach Miller to Tommy Lenoir. But, Brandon Felus blocked the extra point.
Juniata is at Franklin & Marshall Saturday.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Gettysburg6 3 7 0 - 16
Juniata14 14 0 10 -38
J-Mitchell 17 pass from Udinski (Kysor kick), 11:24
G-Lenoir 19 pass from Miller (kick failed), 2:37
J-O'Brien 27 pass from Udinski (Kysor kick), :40
G-Perkins 39 FG, 9:36
J-Udinski 3 run (Kysor kick), 6:27
J-Myers 33 pass from Udinski (Kysor kick), 1:51
G-Caruso 2 run (Perkins kick)
J-Kysor 23 FG, 10:38
J-Schuck 16 pass from Udinski (Kysor kick), 2:15
RUSHING: Gettysburg-Wigley 10-44, Caruso 4-38, Hutchins 4-20, Amicone 2-18, Miller 14-17, Lenoir 3-16, Fessenden 1-10, Ulassin 3-10, Siciliano 1-3. Juniata-McCaulley 16-103, Udinski 13-76, Alston 13-54, John 6-7.
PASSING: Gettysburg-Miller 19-31-1-149. Juniata-Udinski 19-32-0-237.
RECEIVING: Gettysburg-Lenoir 6-35, Caruso 1-24, Wigley 4-23, Amicone 1-16, Pulzello 1-15, Pennella 2-14, Twer 1-8, Fessenden 2-8, Ulassin 1-6. Juniata-Slutter 5-55, Myers 3-53, Schuck 4-46, O'Brien 4-44, Breault 2-22, Mitchell 1-17.
INTERCEPTIONS: Gettysburg-none. Juniata-Gorman.
Pass (comp.-att.-int)19-31-1 19-32-0