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Juniata football comeback falls short of the mark in 24-20 loss to Gettysburg

(Posted October 18, 2008)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- A furious fourth-quarter Juniata College rally came up just shy of the goal as Gettysburg College escaped Knox Stadium with a 24-20 win over the Eagles, in Centennial Conference football action on Saturday afternoon in Huntingdon, Pa.

Trailing 24-14 in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Jay Leonard (Newville, Pa./Big Spring) engineered a seven-play, 59-yard scoring drive that was capped by a one-yard touchdown rush that cut the Gettysburg lead to 24-20 with 1:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. The drive began with 10-yard and nine-yard completions to senior receiver Chad Steiner (Frederick, Md./Frederick), and was aided by Leonard's 15-yard rush that put the ball on the Bullet one-yard line and set-up the score.

However Juniata's extra-point attempt was blocked and the ensuing on-side kick attempt was smothered by Gettysburg's Brian Betley, allowing the Bullets to take a knee three times and end the game.

Gettysburg College took its first lead of the game through a 17-point rally of its own in the fourth quarter, erasing a seven-point Juniata lead heading into the final frame. The Juniata defense had kept a high scoring Gettysburg offense in check most of the game, holding the Bullets scoreless in the first half for just the third time this season. Gettysburg accumulated 431 yards of total offense, however 187 yards of that was in the final quarter.

Offensively, Juniata (1-6, 1-4 Centennial) tallied 230 yards of offense, led by Leonard's 19-of-39 passing for 157 yards with two touchdowns. Junior wideout Matt Dunker (Glenshaw, Pa./Shaler) was Leonard's top target, hauling in six catches for 57 yards with one TD. Fullback Ryan Blanchette (Westminster, Md./Francis Scott Key), who had five receptions all season heading into the game, doubled his total for the season with five catches for 38 yards.

Sophomore tailback Kyle McKechnie (Shillington, Pa./Gov. Mifflin) led the Juniata ground game with 16 carries for 36 yards, while Leonard added another 28 yards rushing.

Neither team was able to take advantage of its first quarter scoring opportunities. Juniata had a 35-yard field goal attempt by Tyler Thomas (Coalport, Pa./Glendale) blocked at the line by Bullet lineman Josh Jerrold at the 7:27 mark of the quarter, while Gettysburg's 30-yard attempt by Josh Huson sailed right of the right upright with 1:10 left in the opening frame.

Juniata broke the deadlock with 5:49 remaining in the second quarter, when Leonard hooked up with Lance Curry for a one-yard touchdown pass. The score capped a seven-play, 67-yard drive that lasted 7:43 - Junaita's most time-consuming scoring drive yet this season. A five-yard rush by McKechnie on fourth-and-one at the Gettysburg 43 kept the drive moving, and a defensive pass interference call on Steiner's attempted touchdown catch in the endzone put the Eagles on the Bullet one-yard line with first-and-goal.

Gettysburg drove to the Juniata three-yard line on its subsequent possession, but a holding call on the Bullets brought the ball back out to the 13-yard line. The Eagle defense held the Bullets to a net gain of two yards, forcing Gettysburg to settle for a 28-yard field goal attempt - which was blocked at the middle of the Juniata line.

The Bullets finally got on the scoreboard at the 10:25 mark of the third quarter, on Matt McConnell's one-yard TD rush to cap a seven-play, 75-yard drive. The drive was aided by a Juniata pass interference penalty in the endzone, which set up Gettysburg with a first-and-10 on the Eagle 15-yard line.

Juniata took advantage of a short field opportunity later in the third quarter, when the Eagles pinned Gettysburg inside its own five-yard line and forced the Bullets to punt. The Eagles regained possession at the Gettysburg 32, and ended the drive nearly three-and-a-half minutes later when Leonard hit Dunker for a two-yard touchdown pass. The score put the Eagles in front 14-7, with 3:26 left in the frame.

Gettysburg fumbled the ensuing kickoff at the Juniata 44-yard line, with Andy Miller (Lancaster, Pa./Manheim Township) coming up with the ball to return possession to the Eagles. The Juniata drive reached the Gettysburg 31-yard line when a holding call on the Eagles forced the Blue and Gold back to the Bullets' 41-yard line with a second-and-21. Juniata was eventually forced to punt on the first play of the fourth quarter, but still held a 14-7 lead.

The Bullets eventually knotted the game at 14-14 with 7:55 to play in the game, when Matt Flynn scored on a third-and-goal from the Juniata one-yard line after Nick McConnell's two previous rushing attempts had failed to break the plane.

Brandon Spayd (Huntingdon, Pa./Huntingdon) fumbled the ensuing return at the Juniata 30, and eight plays later the Bullets took a 17-14 lead on Huson's 21-yard field goal.

Juniata's next drive began with an 11-yard Leonard-to-Dunker pass play, but stalled following McKechnie's four-yard rush and a pair of incomplete pass attempts to Curry and Dunker. Gettysburg regained possession on downs at its own 47-yard line, and on the second play from scrimmage scored on McConnell's 53-yard touchdown run that widened the Bullet lead to 24-14 with 1:48 on the clock.

A 26-yard return by Spayd allowed Juniata to start at its own 41-yard line, setting the stage for the Eagles' comeback attempt.

Defensively, Juniata was let by Tyler Hall (Alexandria, Pa./Juniata Valley) and Josh Roy (Fredericksburg, Pa./Northern Lebanon) with 11 tackles each. Hall recorded 2.5 tackles for loss for eight yards, while had one TFL for two yards. Defensive lineman Matt Walton (West Chester, Pa./Downingtown) had 10 tackles with one sack for five yards.

Juniata remains at home next Saturday, when it hosts Moravian College at 1:00 p.m. at Knox Stadium.

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