13-1 Lackawanna stands in JV’s path
By Michael Boytim
Juniata Valley’s high school football team accomplished something a week ago that it hadn’t done in 31 years when it won a District 6 championship.
But clearly, the Green Hornets are hungry for more, as many of their players and coaches have been posting on social media this week with the hashtag of #hersheybound.
District 2 champion Lackawanna Trail stands in Juniata Valley’s way of a date with the winner of tonight’s Farrell-Our Lady of Sacred Heart game in Thursday’s PIAA Class 1A championship game at Hersheypark Stadium.
“They are 13-1, and they’re a very disciplined team from what I have seen on film,” Juniata Valley coach Bill Musser said. “They are not as big as some of the teams we’ve played, but they are quicker and as physical as a team that we’ve seen. They’ll try and wear us down.”
The combination of running backs Cody Moyle, Jeffrey Resto, Ray Melnikoff and quarterback Nathan Rolka have run for 3,305 yards this season.
“We just have to be who we are,” Musser said. “We definitely will have to wrap up when tackling and not expect one person to bring down the ball carriers. We have to swarm to the ball, and if we limit our penalties, we should be in good shape.”
Rolka has shown some ability to throw, passing for 792 yards and eight touchdowns, so Lackwanna Trail is not a one-dimensional offense.
The Green Hornets would likely welcome some pass attempts as they’ve picked off six passes in the playoffs alone.
“I’m always confident in my team,” Juniata Valley cornerback Gabe Brower said. “If we play our A-game, which I’m confident we can, we will be fine. We all have to our own jobs.”
Someone who has been doing more than just his job throughout the season and definitely since the playoffs have started is Juniata Valley quarterback and safety Quinn Zinobile.
The senior has passed for more than 1,400 yards and run for nearly 1,150 yards. Defensively, he’s been a run-stopper and helped break up the final pass from Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic quarterback Danny Carrieri to wrap up the Hornets’ District 6 semifinal win.
His go-ahead touchdown pass to Brower against United in the District 6 championship came after he spun out of a tackle.
“It was crazy,” Brower said. “The atmosphere was awesome. Just to know we were making history left me speechless.”
Juniata Valley has gotten to this point through a team effort.
In its first playoff game, backup placekicker Garrett Funk made all three of his extra points, including the game-winning one in a 21-20 triumph over Claysburg-Kimmel. In that same game, Grant Musser had an interception that stopped the Bulldogs’ final drive.
Jefferson Hill, the starting kicker, returned for the Bishop Guilfoyle victory and made a field goal that forced the Marauders to go for a touchdown on their final drive rather than kick what would have likely been an automatic field goal from West Virginia-commit Kolton McGhee.
Hill also converted an extra point against United that put Juniata Valley ahead late and forced the Lions to throw the ball. Those throws led to a pair of interceptions returned for touchdowns by Hunter Johnson and Kyle Derugen.
“As a team we’ve come a long way,” Derugen said. “We always had the thought of winning districts, and as we move on, we’re not changing that mindset. We just stay calm and play one way and know that we can win against whoever we come up against.”
PIAA Class 1A high school football semifinals
Juniata Valley (6-1) vs. Lackawanna Trail (2-1)
Teams: Juniata Valley Green Hornets (11-2); Lackawanna Trail Lions (13-1).
Site, time: Ironmen Stadium, Danville, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Juniata Valley — Bill Musser (32-25, fifth season). Lackawanna Trail — Steve Jervis (70-44, 10th season).
Playoff path: Juniata Valley — defeated Claysburg-Kimmel, 21-20, in District 6 quarterfinals; defeated Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic, 9-3, in District 6 semifinals; defeated United, 36-20, in District 6 championship. Lackawanna Trail — defeated Old Forge, 29-12, in District 2 championship; defeated Bristol, 45-7, in District 1-2 subregional; defeated Tri-Valley, 41-6, in PIAA first round; defeated Halifax, 28-6, in PIAA quarterfinals.
Key offensive players: Juniata Valley — QB Quinn Zinobile, sr., 91-for-147, 1,442 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 1,147 rush yards, 15 touchdowns. RB Jaxson Rand, sr., 1,245 rush yards, 13 touchdowns. WR Kyle Derugen, sr., 28 catches, 520 yards, two touchdowns. Lackawanna Trail — QB Nathan Rolka, sr., 44-for-94, 792 passing yards, eight touchdowns, six interceptions, 678 rush yards, 10 touchdowns. RB Cody Moyle, sr., 771 rush yards, 16 touchdowns; RB Jeffrey Resto, jr., 700 rush yards, eight touchdowns. FB Ray Melnikoff, so., 1,156 rush yards, 13 touchdowns.
Interception leaders: Juniata Valley — S Kyle Derugen, sr., six interceptions. Lackawanna Trail — CB Nico Berrios, jr., three interceptions.
Who they get: The winner plays the winner of Farrell (10-1) and Our Lady of Sacred Heart (7-1) in the PIAA Class 1A state championship on Thursday at Hersheypark Stadium at 1 p.m.
Notable: Rolka is also Lackawanna Trail’s placekicker and is 30-for-30 on extra points and has made both of his field goal attempts. … The Lions’ only loss came to Old Forge, 28-21, a loss they avenged in the District 2 championship game. … Moyle, Resto and Melnikoff all rushed for more than 100 yards in that rematch, and the Lackawanna Trail defense held Old Forge to 86 total yards on offense. … Lackawanna Trail has won the District 2 Class 1A championship nine times since 1999 but just twice since 2007 (2016, 2018). … Juniata Valley’s District 6 championship was its first since 1987. … The Green Hornets’ losses came in their season opener to Everett and to Inter-County Conference rival Bellwood-Antis. … Juniata Valley has six interceptions in its three playoff games. … If Juniata Valley wins, District 6 will have a representative in the Class 1A title game for the fifth consecutive season (Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic 2014, 2015, 2016; Homer-Center 2017).
— Compiled by Michael Boytim