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Juniata football falls to fifth-ranked Muhlenberg, 38-7

(Posted October 11, 2008)

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Juniata College battled hard, threw some different offensive looks at Muhlenberg College, and benefited from some big plays, but the fifth-ranked Mules had enough weapons to prevail 38-7, Saturday afternoon at Scott Wood Stadium in Allentown, Pa.

Juniata (1-5, 1-3 Centennial) mustered 204 yards of total offense on the day, with 150 yards in the first half alone. Senior quarterback Jay Leonard (Newville, Pa./Big Spring) was 10-of-23 for 119 yards through the air, and carried five times for a team-high 38 yards. Sophomore tailback Kyle McKechnie (Shillington, Pa./Governor Mifflin) rushed 11 times for 28 yards.

The Mules (5-0, 3-0 Centennial) finished with 440 yards of offense against Juniata, who entered the game with the Centennial's third-ranked defense. The effort was Muhlenberg's fourth 400-plus yard offensive performance this season. Mule quarterback Eric Santagato was 19-of-21 passing for 262 yards, while running back John DeLuca led the ground game with 116 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.

"I thought we played a very good football team today," said Juniata coach Darrell Alt. "There were times when we made some good adjustments and did some good things, but you have to give Muhlenberg a lot of credit - they did a great job today."

Muhlenberg scored on each of its first two drives down the field, striking first on Joe Caporoso's 10-yard touchdown reception from Santagato at the 11:10 mark of the first quarter.

The Eagles responded with a seven-play, 60-yard drive of their own, fueled by a 48-yard hookup between Leonard and senior wideout Chad Steiner (Frederick, Md./Frederick) that gave Juniata a first-and-goal at the Muhlenberg five-yard line. Andrew Masullo's (Bellefonte, Pa./Bellefonte Area) 22-yard field goal attempt was blocked at the center of the line by the Mules' William Moates, allowing Muhlenberg to regain possession.

Muhlenberg immediately marched 88 yards the other direction, capping the drive with a DeLuca four-yard TD rush to take a 14-0 lead with 3:49 remaining in the opening frame. A 33-yard field goal by the Mules' Michael Katz at the 8:04 mark of the second quarter finished a 14-play drive lasting nearly eight minutes, and widened the Muhlenberg lead to 17-0.

Juniata finally got onto the scoreboard just 17 seconds later, when Brandon Spayd (Huntingdon, Pa./Huntingdon Area) fielded TJ Chiarolanza's kickoff at his own 10-yard line, and scampered 90 yards for the score.

"We knew where they were going to kick the football by where they placed it on the tee, so we had a little bit of an advantage there, but Brandon made a great play and Ed Cooney (Queens, N.Y./St. Francis Prep) made a great block, and a magical thing happened," said Alt. "Brandon's definitely a threat, so hopefully down the road teams will kick shorter and we'll be starting with a shorter field."

Juniata opened the second half showing a few plays of a single wing offense, with Leonard lined up wide and the ball snapped directly to McKechnie. That moved the ball to the Muhlenberg 45, where the drive stalled after a pair of deep pass attempts to Steiner and Matt Dunker (Glenshaw, Pa./Shaler) were incomplete.

Different offensive looks were a recurring theme for the Eagles; in the first half, Juniata presented an offense for one series that featured five wideouts - four on one side, and a single receiver on the other.

"Our kids really practiced hard, and to do things like that and make adjustments like we made them, you have to give all the credit to the kids for being attentive in practice and in meetings, and being able to do those sorts of things. We got some positive yardage out of it today, so it was a good move for us," said Alt.

Muhlenberg responded with its third touchdown of the day, a three-play, 62-yard drive that was capped by a 38-yard pass from Santagato to Phil Cressta to make the score 24-7. A Mule interception at the Juniata 23 led to a five-yard DeLuca TD rush with 5:15 left in the third quarter, expanding the Muhlenberg lead to 31-7.

Muhlenberg scored its final touchdown of the day early in the fourth quarter, when Erik Snyder completed an 11-play, 57-yard drive with a two-yard TD carry to make the score 38-7.

Juniata's Steiner finished the day with three receptions for 58 yards, while Dunker had a pair of catches for 41 yards.

Defensively, senior Josh Roy (Fredericksburg, Pa./Northern Lebanon) finished with 14 tackles, two off his career-high, including 10 solo stops and a pair of tackles-for-loss. Jordan Baird (Sayre, Pa./Athens Area) made several outstanding one-on-one tackles on Muhlenberg receivers, and tallied 11 tackles on the day with nine solos. Freshman lineman Jason Marquis (Jeannette, Pa./Jeannette) recorded seven tackles, with six unassisted and one TFL.

Juniata returns home to Knox Stadium next Saturday to host Gettysburg College. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.

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