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Defense keeps Juniata football in the game, but Muhlenberg outlasts Eagles

(Posted October 10, 2009)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- The Juniata College defensive unit doesn't wave a black flag anymore as it runs onto the field at the start of the game, but after this week's performance it might be entitled to start doing so once again.

The Eagle defense allowed just 233 yards of offense �¢?" third-fewest yards allowed in a game over the last six seasons �¢?" but the offense committed six turnovers as Juniata dropped a 14-0 decision to Muhlenberg College, Saturday afternoon at Knox Stadium.

The six turnovers, one of which led to the Mules' first touchdown and another occurring in Muhlenberg's red zone, was the most by Juniata since committing six turnovers against Wilkes University during the 2002 season.

However it was a stellar defensive effort that kept Juniata (0-6, 0-4 Centennial) right on Muhlenberg's heels most of the game. Six of Muhlenberg's 13 drives lasted no longer than four plays, and five never got out of the Mules' end of the field.

Muhlenberg (2-3, 1-2 Centennial) managed just 135 yards passing, with freshman quarterback Justin Myers completing 13 of 24 pass attempts with one interceptions and two touchdowns. On the ground, Joe Montemurro tallied 75 yards on 12 carries.

"It was nice to see the defense perform that way," said Juniata head coach Carmen Felus. "We thought that they could do that because of what Muhlenberg does on offense. They're young, they're going to try and run it and ride it out, and sort of play into our hands a little bit."

Senior safety Brandon Spayd (Huntingdon, Pa./Huntingdon Area) paced the Juniata defense with 10 total tackles, including seven solo stops. Senior linebacker Tyler Hall (Alexandria, Pa./Juniata Valley) tallied eight tackles, while senior cornerback Andy Miller (Lancaster, Pa./Manheim Township) had seven tackles and his first interception of the season.

In a hard-hitting contest on both sides of the ball, the Eagles logged a season-high three sacks and recorded 10.0 tackles for loss, nearly matching their total for the season coming into Saturday's game. Senior Dan Kraft (York, Pa./Eastern York) and sophomore Jason Marquis (Jeannette, Pa./Jeannette) each recorded 2.0 tackles for loss, with Kraft also getting a pair of sacks.

"They (Muhlenberg) knew they were in a football game today," said Felus. "They're big, they've got more size than us, but our defense came to play today."

Muhlenberg's 233 yards of offense was Juniata's best defensive effort since allowing a mere 192 yards in a pair of games last season against Susquehanna and McDaniel. Prior to those two games, the Eagles last held an opponent to 233 yards or less back in the final game of the 2003 season against FDU-Madison (193 yards).

The Mules' first score came at the 8:17 mark of the first quarter, when Myers hooked up with tight end Steve Liparini on a two-yard pass play. That capped a five-play, 32-yard drive, which started with an interception by the Mules' Chris Hartzell.

Muhlenberg tacked on a second touchdown with 8:04 showing in the third quarter, with a Myers pass to Phil Cresta for a four-yard scoring strike that closed out a 12-play, 78-yard march down the field.

Offensively, Juniata managed 135 yards through the air, mostly from senior Alex Snyder (Boalsburg, Pa./State College Area) who was 14-of-27 for 107 yards but threw the interception that led to the first Mule touchdown.

Junior Mike DeTemple (New Cumberland, Pa./Camp Hill) completed five of his eight attempts for 43 yards, but had a pair of interceptions. The first came on a third-and-goal play at the Muhlenberg seven-yard line, which was picked by the Mules' Kevin Ryan and returned 12 yards to squash Juniata's best scoring opportunity of the day.

Sophomore wideout Abram Mellinger (Ronks, Pa./Lampeter Strasburg) led the receivers with eight catches for 65 yards, while tailback Derek Kramer (Newville, Pa./Big Spring) paced the Juniata ground game with 36 yards on 12 carries.

"Derek and Abe are getting better every week," said Felus. "They're both tough kids, they've got great character, and I thought those two young men played an outstanding game today for us offensively."

However Juniata's average starting point on offense was it's own 31-yard line, and seven of the Eagles' 13 drives lasted three plays or less. For the game, Juniata finished with 145 yards of total offense, and netted -5 yards rushing for the game.

"I thought our defense played well enough for us to win the ball game today, but on offense you can't play like that and win football games," said Felus. "You can't. It'll never happen."

Juniata's next two games are on the road, starting with next Saturday's matchup at Gettysburg College. Kick-off is slated for 1:00 p.m.

For a video recap of this game, click here.

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