Two pick-6s clinch Green Hornets’ district title
Juniata Valley won its first District 6 football championship in 31 years Friday night.
For Valley star senior quarterback Quinn Zinobile, the wait was a little shorter, but just as sweet.
“Actually, it all started in ninth grade,” Zinobile said. “Jaxson Rand (Zinobile’s senior teammate and Valley’s standout running back) and I were sitting in the coaches room together, and we both said that when we got older, we wanted to win District 6.”
It happened Friday at chilly Mansion Park, when Valley (11-2) racked up its 10th straight victory to capture the District 6 Class 1A title with a 36-20 win over United.
“It hasn’t been done in 31 years, and it means everything,” Zinobile said.
Zinobile’s athletic elusiveness led the way to his 14-yard touchdown pass to sophomore halfback Gabe Brower, that, together with sophomore Jefferson Hill’s PAT kick, gave Valley a 21-20 lead with 3:31 left.
The Green Hornets cemented the victory with a pair of pick-6 interceptions by sophomore defensive back Hunter Johnson and senior defensive back Kyle Derugen in the final two minutes.
“I was hired four years back, and my coaching staff and I had a vision for what this program could accomplish, and tonight was a step in that direction,” said Valley coach Bill Musser, acknowledging the contributions of current assistants Jason Showalter, Jeff Hensor, Dave Roland and John Boone. “(To say that it feels great) would be an understatement. We’re now in the Final Four in the state. There are not many left, but we’re one of them.”
Valley will play the winner of tonight’s PIAA quarterfinal-round matchup between District 2 champion Lackawanna Trail and District 3 champ Halifax in next week’s semifinal round at a site and time to be determined.
After United (9-5) had taken a 20-14 lead on a 3-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run by sophomore back Hunter Cameron, who rushed for 132 yards on 29 carries, Valley staged its game-winning rally.
The Green Hornets covered 56 yards in eight plays, with Zinobile rolling left, eluding the grasp of one United defender and feathering the 14-yard scoring pass to Brower, who came down with it in acrobatic fashion and fell just inside the left-side pylon for the touchdown with 3:31 left.
“He shook off (the defender),” Brower said of Zinobile. “The pass was kind of high, but I jumped up, caught it, saw there was an opening and scored. It was a difference-maker, for sure.”
Together with Hill’s PAT kick, it gave Valley the lead for good.
“He came down with it, and it was a heck of a catch,” Zinobile said of Brower’s effort.
United tried a couple of ill-fated passes in an attempt to regain the lead.
Backup lefty freshman quarterback Benjamin Tomb had his throw picked off and returned 52 yards for a touchdown by Johnson for a 28-20 Valley lead with 1:27 left.
“I saw the quarterback looking over at me, and I knew the pass was coming to my side of the field,” Johnson said. “I undercut the route and took it for a touchdown.”
Musser said that Johnson has been solid all season at the cornerback position.
“Hunter Johnson has been steady at corner all year, and he turned in a spectacular play there,” Musser said.
Derugen’s interception of another Tomb pass and 53-yard return for a touchdown with 40 seconds left clinched Valley’s district championship.
“That was Kyle Derugen, a senior, stepping up at a big moment,” Musser said.
United coach Kevin Marabito, who saluted his team’s heart, didn’t regret attempting the two intercepted passes.
“We don’t have any second thoughts,” Marabito said. “We felt that we could throw the football there, and it didn’t work out. They made a couple of great plays. The outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but I couldn’t be prouder of this group and what they accomplished.”
Valley opened the scoring on a 7-yard touchdown run by Rand with 4:17 left in the first quarter, but United took an 8-6 lead into the intermission when junior quarterback Kyle Silk ran 1 yard for a touchdown and also ran in the 2-point conversion.
Zinobile put Valley back in the driver’s seat, 14-8, with a 41-yard touchdown run up the middle of the field with 7:44 left in the third quarter. He also threw a 2-point conversion pass to junior Cameron Collins.
“It was actually supposed to be a pass,” Zinobile said of his long touchdown run, on which he slipped three tackles. “But I saw the middle open up, I shed a few guys and made something out of nothing.”
United came back to regain the lead. Silk ran 16 yards up the gut for a touchdown with 3:30 left in the third quarter to tie the score, 14-14, before Cameron’s 3-yard run with 7:34 left put United back ahead, 20-14.
The came the Green Hornets’ rally and their long-awaited district championship.
“They’re a very strong team,” Musser said of United. “We knew they were going to punch us in the mouth. We were able to withstand that punch and get a couple body blows in of our own.”
And now the Hornets are within one win of a berth in the state championship game in two weeks.
“We trusted the process, we trusted each other, and we’ve never settled,” Musser said. “That’s been our mantra all year — we’ve never settled.”
SCORE BY QUARTERS
United 0 8 6 6 — 20
Juniata Valley 6 0 8 22 — 36
JV–Rand 7 run (pass failed), 4:17.
U–Silk 1 run (Silk run), 7:51.
JV–Zinobile 41 run (Collins pass from Zinobile), 7:44.
U–Silk 16 run (run failed), 3:30.
U–Cameron 3 run (run failed), 7:34.
JV–Brower 14 pass from Zinobile (Hill kick), 3:31.
JV–Johnson 52 interception return (Hill kick), 1:27.
JV–Derugen 53 interception return (Johnston pass from Rupert), 0:40.
TEAM STATISTICS U JV
First downs 15 12
Total yards 266 235
Rushes-yards 52-236 33-150
Yards passing 30 85
Passing (comp.-att.-int.) 3-9-2 7-11-1
Punts-avg. 3-36 3-28.3
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 4-40 3-22
RUSHING–United, Cameron 29-132, Silk 21-88, Dupre 1-16, Tomb 1-0. Juniata Valley, Zinobile 13-85, Rand 18-60, Musser 1-5, Brower 1-0.
PASSING–United, Silk 3-5-0-30, Tomb 0-4-2-0. Juniata Valley, Zinobile 7-11-1-85.
RECEIVING–United, Cameron 2-19, Boring 1-11. Juniata Valley, Brower 2-32, Collins 2-15, Derugen 2-7, Musser 1-31.