Green Hornets trying to get back to 1A final
The Juniata Valley football program set the bar high for itself last season, when it won its first District 6 Class 1A championship in 31 years and advanced to the PIAA semifinals.
That team was led by all-state senior quarterback Quinn Zinobile, who has since graduated. But Valley returned an expansive nucleus, and the Hornets’ success has continued.
Juniata Valley carries a 9-2 record into Saturday night’s District 6 Class 1A semifinal home playoff game against Purchase Line (8-4). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at A.R. Simkins Field.
Valley coach Bill Musser credits a spirit of team unity and cohesiveness as a primary factor in the success of this year’s team. Although the Hornets feature a bunch of outstanding individual players, the emphasis is on the group as a whole.
“I think it’s been the team mentality,” Musser said when asked to pinpoint the biggest key to the success of the 2019 squad. “Each one of the kids has taken turns having good weeks, but nobody looks at that. They look at the success of the team as a whole. The kids enjoy playing with each other, and playing for each other.”
Third-seeded Valley advanced to Saturday’s semifinal round with a 41-6 quarterfinal victory over Homer-Center last Saturday. Seventh-seeded Purchase Line went on the road and upended second-seeded Portage, 25-6 last Friday.
Purchase Line notched its impressive victory without the services of its leading rusher, junior back Josh Syster, who was sidelined by a knee injury. Syster, who has rushed for 1,370 yards on 153 carries and 14 touchdowns, may or may not play Saturday, but whether he does or not, Purchase Line has several other solid offensive weapons at its disposal.
Senior quarterback Jacob Barnett rushed for 88 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns against Portage, while senior scatback Kyle Day ran for 127 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns, and also caught a scoring pass from Barnett. Senior fullback Cullen Goncher bulldozed for 102 yards on 20 carries as Purchase Line racked up 367 yards in rushing offense.
Goncher has rushed for 702 yards on 127 carries and 10 touchdowns this season, while Day has rushed for 568 yards on 75 carries and four TDs. Barnett has completed 43 of 86 passes for 565 yards and six touchdowns, while rushing for 237 yards on 85 carries and 11 scores.
“They are very well-coached, they do a nice job of running their offense,” Musser said. “They have a big offensive line, a couple of big backs, and they also have a quick kid in Day. They’re going to spread the field, and come right at you. They’re not just a one-trick pony.”
Neither is Juniata Valley. Senior quarterback Caden Rupert has completed 112 of 179 passes for 1,419 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Hornets, while senior running back Ryann Betres has rushed for 815 yards on 147 carries and five touchdowns, and junior back Gabe Brower has ran for 523 yards on 73 carries and five scores.
Senior fullback Grant Musser, who rushed for two touchdowns and threw for one against Homer-Center, has a team-leading 31 catches for 266 yards and three touchdowns, while senior wideout Jacob Hensor and Brower both have 24 catches. Hensor has caught five touchdown passes, Brower four this season.
Purchase Line coach Matt Falisec has taken note of Valley’s size and athleticism.
“They look very skilled, they have a lot of athletic kids who are all about six feet tall and can run,” Falisec said. “That’s what worries me. They’ve got a good team. They won District 6 last year, (and) obviously, they’re up there again this year. They’re a good team, they’re well-coached with a lot of skill guys, and big guys up front. It should be a good game.”
Musser is expecting that to be the case as well.
“I’m looking forward to a really good game,” Musser said. “Purchase Line is a quality opponent, and I think we have the ability to competitive every game.”