HUNTINGDON - Juniata College celebrated senior day in style as the Eagles defeated Susquehanna 17-10 Saturday.
The win improved the Eagles to 7-3 on the season and completed one of the biggest four-year turnarounds in program history for the 11 seniors who didn't win a single game during their freshman year.
The Eagles have seven wins for the first time since the 1990 season, and their 6-3 conference mark guarantees their best finish since joining the Centennial in 2007.
"I can't say enough about those 11 Juniata men, from 0-10 to 7-3. 45 of them came in and only 11 are still here. If you are going to build a Juniata man just look right there at those 11. The trust and respect they have shown this program and their teammates is beyond belief and I love them," an emotional Juniata coach Tim Launtz said.
The Juniata defense was the catalyst on this afternoon. Led by senior defensive linemen Brandon Felus and Jared Shope, the Eagles held Susquehanna to just 54 yards on the ground and 159 total yards. They also forced three turnovers.
"Our defense is so focused and has discipline to execute. Today they read their keys and they played so well as a unit. It was just outstanding how well we played on defense today," said Launtz.
Susquehanna (1-9) jumped out to an early lead capitalizing on a shanked punt by Juniata midway through the opening quarter. The Crusaders started their second possession on the Juniata 42-yard line and were able to move 31 yards on seven plays before settling for a Spencer Hotaling 28-yard field goal.
Juniata answered quickly however as the Eagles would score on each of their next two possessions to take the lead.
The Eagles got on the board with a Ken Kysor 25-yard field goal after a 12-play, 58-yard drive to knot the score at three.
After holding Susquehanna on its next possession, the Eagles offense would score its only touchdown of the game. The drive was highlighted by a beautiful leaping catch by freshman Aaron O'Brien that went for 38 yards. Quarterback Ward Udinski capped off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown scamper, his team-leading ninth rushing score of the year.
The third quarter saw more suffocating Eagles defense and included a score of its own. Midway through the third quarter Juniata cornerback Charles Sweigert provided the play of the game when he picked off a Susquehanna pass and raced 34 yards for a touchdown. The return was a spectacular run that saw Sweigert change direction numerous times and juke several Crusader defenders.
"That pick-six was a heck of an effort by Charles. He was in the right place and the effort he displayed on that return, wow! He ran by some people because they didn't expect him to get there," Launtz said.
Susquehanna added a fourth-quarter touchdown but it wasn't enough and the Eagles were able to grind out the win.
With seven wins on the season the Eagles are hoping to be selected to the ECAC postseason tournament. Juniata should find out on Monday if they've made it and according to Coach Launtz the kids are well aware of their chances.
"The kids are aware; they've shown great maturity staying focused on the process. These guys know about the ECAC but they haven't talked about it," said Launtz.
With the big turnaround this season Coach Launtz hopes a new bar has been set for the program and winning seasons become the norm for Juniata.
"They have embraced the evolution of this process and look what it's gotten them. We sure hope that Juniata football is back and what it will take is a good offseason and the new leaders on this team to step up," said Launtz.
Three of the Juniata seniors honored were area graduates: Zach McCaulley (Bellwood-Antis), Zach Doyle (Bellwood-Antis), Shope (Altoona).
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Susquehanna3 0 0 7 - 10
Juniata0 10 7 0 - 17
S-Hotaling 28 FG, 5:00
J-Kysor 25 FG, 14:14
J-Udinski 14 run (Kysor kick), 9:04
J-Sweigert 34 int. return (Kysor kick), 5:59
S-Howell 29 pass from Rosenbaum (Hotaling kick), 11:41
RUSHING: Susquehanna - Wade 14-56, Dorsey 1-2, Rosenbaum 4- (-4). Juniata - Udinski 20-88, McCaulley 20-65, Alston 8-44, Mitchell 1-5, TEAM 2-(-2).
PASSING: Susquehanna - Rosenbaum 10-20-3-105, Dorsey 0-1-0-0, Howell 0-1-0-0. Juniata - Udinski 11-22-0-155
RECEIVING: Susquehanna - Walker 4-34, Howell 2-30, Tosches 2-22, Murtha 1-19, Wade 1-0. Juniata - O'Brien 4-77, Mitchell 5-60, Alston 2-18.
INTERCEPTIONS: Susquehanna - none. Juniata - Sweigert, Bonavita, Robinson.