By: Jennifer Jones
Director of Sports Information
email@example.com • juniatasports.net
HUNTINGDON, Pa. - The Juniata College football team opens its 2013 campaign in the comfort of home. The Eagles play host to Thiel College on Saturday, Sept. 7 at noon in the 40th anniversary year of the 1973 team playing in the inaugural NCAA Division III National Championship.
"They are very similar to us," said head coach Tim Launtz of the Tomcats. "They have a lot of returning starters on both sides of the ball. They continued to improve throughout the year last year. I think what it comes down to is that you have two teams who took positive steps last year, so you'll see who's the most improved football team."
This will be the seventh meeting of the two programs in a rivalry that dates back to 1921. There has been a significant gap in time since the teams played before last season. Thiel dominated the early years of the matchup, but Juniata has now won three straight and outscored the Tomcats 47-19. This game will determine the series leader.
Thiel at a Glance
Thiel heads into its fifth season under head coach Kurt Reiser. The Tomcats went 3-7 last year and tied for fifth in the Presidents' Athletic Conference with a 3-5 record. After losing just six starters from the 2012 squad, Thiel returns all but one from its starting offense and is expected to be competitive on the attack.
Among the returners is All-Pac second team offensive lineman Jason Crystol. He will be protecting senior quarterback Andrew Smith in the pocket. Smith appeared in all 10 games and amassed nearly 1,400 passing yards. Returning in the backfield are Josh Potter and Taylor Fink. Both appeared in all 10 games, with Potter earning the starting job most of last year. But Fink proved more successful on the gridiron, averaging 4.0 yards per carry and 618 total yards.
Seven starters return to the Tomcats defense. Thiel will have an experienced secondary to rely on in 2013. They are led by senior free safety Brandon Wolfe. He led the team with 39 total tackles, 27 solo. Strong safety Rob Edwards was second in tackles with 26 and recorded an interception and six pass breakups last year.
Thiel runs a multiple Pro-I offense and a multiple 4-3 defense. They have 18 starters returning: eight seniors, five juniors, and five sophomores.
Scott Andrews made a field goal with 4:56 remaining to lift Juniata over Thiel 16-13. The Eagle defense then held Thiel off the board, allowing just 54 total yards of offense over two possessions for the rest of regulation. The win broke a season-opener losing streak and helped complete at three-sport sweep of Thiel as men's and women's soccer also won against the Tomcats. Ward Udinski threw for over 200 yards and ran in the Eagles only touchdown. Thiel won the ground game rushing for 57 more yards than Juniata. The Eagle defense picked off Andrew Smith twice and found him in the backfield once for a sack.
Keep on Rising
Juniata is coming off of its most successful season in nearly a decade after posting the program's first three-win season since 2003. In recognition of their progress, the Eagles were pegged to finished seventh in the Centennial Conference preseason poll with 57 points. This is the first time Juniata has been tabbed higher than last since joining the league in 2007.
Staying Close to Home
Head coach Tim Launtz is entering just his third year at the helm of Eagle football. He is a Huntingdon, Pa native and 1980 Juniata graduate. Launtz is the 22nd head coach in Juniata's history and the sixth alumnus to guide the program.
Felus Named Preseason All-American
Senior Brandon Felus was named a 2013 Preseason All-American by the Beyond Sports Network. He was the first Eagle under Launtz to be named first-team all-conference and was also recognized as a 2012 Eastern College Athletic Conference All-Star.
Four Earn All-Conference Honors in Postseason
The Eagles return all four of their 2012 All-Centennial honorees, three of whom are members of the defense: Felus, linebacker, Kevin Gorman, and defensive lineman Jared Shope. Gorman is a two-time all-conference selection. Offensive lineman Josh Gongloff rounded out the Eagles on all-conference teams.
Offensive Quick Hit
Juniata returns its entire starting offensive line to protect junior quarterback Ward Udinski. The captain led the team in passing and rushing yards last year and was ranked 30th nationally in total offense. Despite losing the veteran receiving group to graduation, Udinski has experience in the backfield to share the load in senior Zach McCaulley. The running back finished second in rushing yards behind Udinski.
The Eagles only lost two members of their nationally ranked defense. The experienced group will be bringing 15 defensive newcomers up to speed quickly to allow for depth.
Special Teams Highlights
Junior Ken Kysor and sophomore Jonah Plymire will be the golden toes for Juniata in 2013. Kysor will take over primary place kicking duties after the Eagles lost Ken Andrews to graduation. Plymire will continue to boot the ball for punts. He finished last season with 1,735 yards and ranked 36th nationally in punting.
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