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Juniata football stopped by Susquehanna in "Goalpost Game"

(Posted September 13, 2008)

SELINSGROVE, Pa. -- There will be no denying that this was a game of missed opportunities, but Juniata's final unsuccessful scoring opportunity may have hurt the most.

Juniata College failed to score on four tries from inside the Susquehanna University five-yard line with under three minutes to play, allowing the host Crusaders to reclaim the "Goalpost Trophy" with a 10-3 victory at Lopardo Stadium in Selinsgrove, Pa.

The Eagles (0-2, 0-0 Centennial) moved the ball from their own 21-yard line with a series of short runs, setting up a 3rd-and-9 at the Juniata 34. Senior quarterback Jay Leonard (Newville, Pa./Big Spring) found wideout Chad Steiner (Frederick, Md./Frederick) on a near-side sideline route, and Steiner ripped the ball from the Susquehanna defender's hands and sprinted upfield for a 61-yard gain. He was eventually brought down by Crusader safety Josh Simpson at the Susquehanna five-yard line, setting up the first-and-goal for the Eagles.

Dan Zentz (Lutherville, Md./Calvert Hall) moved the ball to the Susquehanna one-yard line on his first carry, but was pushed back and then rushed for no gain on his second and third attempts. Leonard tried to break the plane on fourth-and-goal, but was stopped less than an inch from the goal line. Susquehanna regained possession on downs with 2:50 left in the game.

"We were in a position to win late in the game, and I wouldn't change a thing �¢?" I'd put the ball in Jay's hands again," said Juniata head coach Darrell Alt. "We had four opportunities from the five-yard line to win today, and we just couldn't put it through."

"We needed to start faster today, and that proved costly at the end of the game," said Alt.

Juniata had two other lengthy sustained drives that failed to put points on the scoreboard, resulting in the ball going over to Susquehanna on downs.

The first of those was in the second quarter, when the Eagles started out at their own four-yard line and drove to the Crusader 31 over the course of two minutes and 26 seconds. The drive was fueled by a 28-yard pass completion from Leonard to Lance Curry (Palmyra, Pa./Palmyra) on fourth-and-10 at the Eagle 40, but expired on an incomplete pass on fourth-and-9.

The second such drive was in the fourth quarter, when a muffed punt return by Susquehanna gave the ball to Juniata on the 50-yard line with 13:00 remaining. The drive breached the Susquehanna red zone with Matt Dunker's (Glenshaw, Pa./Shaler) nine-yard reception from Leonard at the Crusader 19. The drive stalled when Leonard was forced back on a three-yard loss on third down, and his pass attempt to Dunker was incomplete on fourth-and-12.

Juniata's only score of the game came early in the second quarter, when Zentz booted a 24-yard field goal with 11:15 left on the clock. The field goal capped an 11-play, 29-yard drive, which began with a 56-yard kickoff return by Brandon Spayd (Huntingdon, Pa./Huntingdon Area) to bring the ball back to the Susquehanna 36-yard line. Leonard hooked up with Kyle McKechnie (Shillington, Pa./Governor Mifflin) on a 19-yard pass play later in the drive, moving the ball into the Crusader red zone.

Spayd's kickoff return was on the heels of a 23-yard field goal by the Crusader's Bobby Eppleman, that expanded Susquehanna lead to 10-0.

Susquehanna (1-1, 0-0 Liberty League) jumped out a 7-0 lead on its first possession of the game, on Derek Pope's 27-yard touchdown pass to Justin Young with 10:49 remaining in the opening frame.

Juniata finished the game with 295 yards of total offense. Leonard was 19-of-35 through the air for 214 yards, moving the senior into second place among Juniata's career passing leaders with 6,089 yards �¢?" becoming just the second Juniata player to surpass 6,000 yards passing.

The Eagle defense held the Crusaders to 192 yards of total offense, and just 12 first downs - including only five in the second half. Of the Crusaders' 13 possessions in the game, Juniata held Susquehanna in its own end of the field on seven of those; in three of Susquehanna's seven possessions in the second half, the Crusaders failed to gain a first down.

The Eagles were paced defensively by freshman Jason Marquis (Jeannette, Pa./Jeannette) with seven total tackles, all solo stops. Jordan Baird (Sayre, Pa./Athens Area) had six total tackles with one interception for seven yards and a pass break-up. Sean Vanderlin (Williamsport, Pa./Williamsport), Josh Roy (Fredericksburg, Pa./Northern Lebanon), and J.D. Jones (Walkersville, Md./Gov. Thomas Johnson) each had five stops.

"The defense played their tails off today, and did some great things out there," said Alt. "The defensive play out there today was tremendous. There were maybe only one or two plays where we made a mistake and let them do some good things, but I think from the defensive line to the linebackers and the secondary our defense is playing inspired football out there. The key is to get that offense to capitalize on the opportunities the defense gives us."

Juniata opens Centennial Conference play next Saturday when the Eagles travel to Collegeville, Pa., to face Ursinus College. Kick-off is slated for 1:00 p.m.

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.