Juniata Valley enjoying deep playoff run

The Juniata Valley High School football team is breathing some rarefied air, and savoring every bit of it.

The Green Hornets carry a 10-2 record and nine-game winning streak into what is their first District 6 Class 1A championship-game appearance since 2007 on Friday night, when they face United at Mansion Park. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Valley last won a district championship way back in 1987, so the players and coaches know what is at stake.

“This is a place where we haven’t had a lot of experience playing to this depth in the playoffs,” Valley coach Bill Musser said. “It’s heightened our appreciation for it, but the goal for this team, absolutely, is not just to get here, but to win. You can talk about it being like a hike, or a journey, or writing a strong book. We haven’t written the final chapters yet.”

Senior Quinn Zinobile, a three-year, two-way starter at quarterback and safety for the Hornets, also said that the Hornets have some unfinished business.

“We haven’t won a district final in 31 years, it feels like our community really deserves it,” said Zinobile, who has completed 84 of 136 passes for 1,357 yards and 12 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,062 yards on 181 carries and 14 more scores. “The last couple of years, we got pounded by Bishop Guilfoyle (in the playoffs). We feel like we’re all ready to step in and get a ‘W’ this week.”

Valley advanced to Friday’s championship game by stunning Bishop Guilfoyle, 9-3 in a semifinal-round matchup last Saturday at Mansion Park. That game had originally been scheduled to be played at Valley’s A.R. Simkins Field, but the venue was switched to Mansion Park after last week’s heavy snowfall.

“We thought we had a chance to win,” Zinobile said of last week’s BG game. “The outcome of the game was what we thought was going to happen, but nobody else (other than the Valley players and coaches) did.”

Along with Zinobile, Valley is led by senior running back Jaxson Rand, who has rushed for 1,185 yards on 249 carries and 12 touchdowns while catching 13 passes for 220 yards and four more TDs. Senior wideout Kyle Derugen leads the team in catches with 26 for 513 yards and two TDs, while junior tight end Grant Musser has 22 receptions for 297 yards and five touchdowns.

Bill Musser is philosophical about the reasons behind Valley’s success this season.

“I think the key to our season has been us playing as a team,” Bill Musser said. “As much as Zinobile has led us, if you look at our stats, we’re pretty much evenly spread out on offense. Defensively, we have five people in the 50 to 60-tackle range, and three of our players have combined for a total of 12 interceptions.

“As coaches, we talk to the kids about the process — about building the foundation, building a solid first and second floor, and sticking with it,” Bill Musser said. “Not every play is going to be ultra successful.”

United (9-4) enters Friday’s game riding a hot streak as well. The Lions have won seven straight games, including last Sunday’s 36-28 overtime thriller over Northern Cambria in a semifinal matchup at Mansion Park.

“The kids are playing at an unreal level, and playing for each other,” United coach Kevin Marabito said. “They’re very unselfish — they don’t care who gets the football. It’s one of those dream teams.”

United uses a predominant rushing attack led by two players, speedy sophomore running back Hunter Cameron, who has rushed for 2,051 yards on 298 carries and 17 touchdowns, and shifty junior quarterback Kyle Silk, who has rushed for 1,417 yards on 194 carries and 28 touchdowns.

Silk was fighting the flu and played only sparingly against Northern Cambria, but he is expected to be healthy for Friday’s game.

“They have a couple nice runners,” Bill Musser said of Henderson and Silk. “We’re going to have to make sure that we tackle as a team.”

Marabito is also impressed with the Valley squad.

“They’re 10-2, so you know they’re a good football team,” Marabito said. “They’re definitely rolling. At this stage of the season, there are no easy teams. We’re going to have our hands full Friday night. We’re going to have to play great football.”