By: Jennifer Jones
Director of Sports Information
firstname.lastname@example.org • juniatasports.net
HUNTINGDON, Pa. – This year marked the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Juniata football team playing for the first ever NCAA Division III National Championship and the 2013 Eagles used this year to make their own historic run. After going 0-10 three years ago, Juniata finished at 7-4 overall, 6-3 in the Centennial Conference, posting the programs highest win total since 1990, and the most conference wins since 1999.
"We talked in the spring leading up to this season about how important that every one be all in," said third year head coach Tim Launtz. "And we talked about would you be willing to risk everything and bet everything in regards to being a member of this football team and our players really bought in. They care about one another."
They reaped the rewards of their hard work by earning the program's first postseason appearance since 1973, receiving numerous individual accolades and even getting votes in the National Football Coaches Association (NFCA) poll. Launtz was named Centennial Conference Coach of the Year and eight Eagles earned all-conference honors with senior Brandon Felus (Columbia, Pa./Columbia) taking the defensive player of the year award.
In just his third season at the helm, Launtz led Juniata to its second biggest turnaround in program history. His 11 wins make him the eighth head coach in Juniata history to post over 10 wins in their first three seasons and the first since 1998. The Eagles were pegged to finish seventh in the Centennial in the preseason poll and Juniata did their best to shake things up in the league.
The 2013 Eagles were one of five teams in program history to average 20+ point win margins in their first two games along with the 1938, 1957-59 squads and the 1973 team coming in close behind. With their 38-16 rout of Gettysburg College (Sept. 21), they became only the third team in history to win by over 20 points in the first three games of the season, and started 3-0 for the first time since 2002.
After suffering two tough conferences losses, the Eagles hit the road and dominated Ursinus College, handing the Bears their first loss of the season, and putting the Eagles in a tie for fourth in the league with Muhlenberg College going into a homecoming weekend matchup with the Mules. Muhlenberg used a big second quarter push to earn the win and break the tie. But Juniata used the loss as fuel and closed out the conference season with three straight wins, placing them fourth in the league, their highest in the Centennial to date.
They took down McDaniel College with a season-high 42 points and led the entire way against Moravian College on the road before returning home for the Annual Battle for the Goal Post against Susquehanna University.
Trailing 3-0 after the first quarter against the Crusaders, Juniata's defense stepped up and shut them down for the next two quarters while the offense racked up the points. The Eagles would go on to win 17-10 and bring the coveted Goal Post Trophy back to Huntingdon for the second time in three years.
Juniata was then tapped by the ECAC to play in the Southwest Bowl against Albright College and came out strong early in the game. Two quick Eagle touchdowns were soon answered by Albright and the game went into the break tied. Juniata led until deep in the fourth quarter when the Lions offense caught fire, scoring two touchdowns in under two minutes. The Eagles would get another score on the board, but could not regain the lead.
Juniata graduates 11 from the 2013 squad. Only one other senior class has gone from a winless season, to one of such success in their four years. They will graduate with 11 wins under their belt, more than any other class since 2004.
"This program has learned how to deal with adversity," said Launtz. "They understood that every detail, there were no little things, everything was important. And they worked to always achieve and improve and never gave up. Now the challenge is how we deal with success. I think we're to the point where we have the leaders in place that they understand that there is a Juniata way to do things because they've been directly involved in it."
Juniata's defense held opponents to an average of under 17 points per game through the first three games of the season and kept them to 21 points or less seven times during the year. A dominant front line, led by Felus, helped the Eagles control the ground. They allowed fewer than 100 yards rushing five times during the season, holding Ursinus to a season-low 15 yards on the ground. Juniata ranked 36th nationally in rushing defense and 21st in team pass sacks.
"The defense as a whole just played so well together," said Launtz. "It starts with the defensive staff. They had great game plans and the defense was very competitive and very physically aggressive."
Second in the league in rushing defense and sacks, the Eagles placed three on Centennial's first-team: Felus and fellow senior captains Kevin Gorman (Waverly, N.Y./Waverly Central), and Jared Shope (Altoona, Pa./Altoona Area).
Felus is the most decorated player ever under Launtz. The 6-3, 265 defensive tackle is a two-time First-Team All-Centennial selection and was recognized as a BeyondSportsNetwork.com Second-Team All-American, D3football.com First-Team All-Region selection and the ECAC South Defensive Player of the Year, as well as a first-team all-star. He finished the year ranked 13th nationally in pass sacks and 27th in tackles for a loss.
"Brandon Felus is one of those guys that you sure hope you have more than one of those guys," said Launtz. "Brandon Felus will leave a legacy here at Juniata. He made others better by the example he set and his level of play."
A three-time all-conference selection, Gorman has led the team in tackles for three consecutive years. The 6-0, 230 linebacker was the Eagles defensive general on the field. He finished ranked nationally in total tackles and solo tackles. Shope, a 6-3, 245 lineman, is a two-time all-conference honoree. He ranked nationally in pass sacks, finishing fifth in the league. He dominated in the classroom and earned Capital One Academic All-District honors and was named a Campbell Award semifinalist.
Other Eagles making an impact include sophomore Charles Sweigert (Lancaster, Pa./Lancaster Catholic) and junior Ethan Wilt (Altoona, Pa./Altoona). The 6-0, 180 defensive back put time in on special teams but made his mark in the Eagles secondary where he recorded a team-high three interceptions for 84 yards and Juniata's only defensive touchdown. Sweigert ended the season ranked nationally for interceptions and passes defended. Wilt was selected to the all-conference honorable mention for his play during the season. He finished second on the team in total tackles, forced a fumble and ran an interception back for 16 yards.
In his first season as offensive coordinator, Mike Newton helped guide the Eagles to a season of historic scoring numbers. Juniata's offense was ranked nationally in several categories including 17th in fourth down conversions.
The Eagles offense was undoubtedly led by junior Ward Udinski (Doylestown, Pa./Central Bucks West). The 6-3, 215 quarterback earned a team-high 2,311 passing yards and rushed for a team-best 757 yards on the ground. As the only junior captain, Udinski was ranked nationally in 11 different categories, including 34th in points responsible for and 39th in total offense. His play earned him second-team honors, the first all-conference nod of his career.
"It all starts with Ward," Launtz added. "The best want it more than others and they make others better. He's just an outstanding leader."
It's impossible to mention the success of the Eagles offense without acknowledging the front men in the trenches. Juniata returned all five of its starting offensive linemen in 2013 and their experience showed. Senior Zach Doyle (Altoona, Pa./Bellwood-Antis), juniors Josh Gongloff(Tyrone, Pa./Bellwood-Antis) and Derek Schultz (Edinboro, Pa./General McLane), and sophomoresFrank Marin (Whitestone, N.Y./Holy Cross) and Nathan Shaffer (Dalmatia, Pa./Line Mountain) protected the backfield all season long, giving up only 15 yards per game and averaging just 1.5 sacks. Gongloff joined Udinski on second-team for his role the success.
"The offensive line made vast improvements," said Launtz. "Was very physical, very dominant. In our offense, us being able to run the ball this year, it made us a complete offense."
Skilled players excelling in 2013 include juniors Isaiah Slutter (Hawley, Pa./Wallenpaupack) andKyle Schuck (Selinsgrove, Pa./Selinsgrove) along with freshman Aaron O'Brien (York, Pa./York Catholic). Both Slutter and Schuck earned second-team all-conference honors, the first of their careers. Slutter spent time at receiver and on special teams. He led the team in catches and finished second in total yards and touchdowns. Schuck came alive on the outside at tight end. He caught a team-best four touchdowns and averaged over 24 yards per game.
O'Brien finished his year ranked nationally in receiving yards and receptions. He led the team with over 600 receiving yards and averaged a team-best 60 yards per game. His 84 yard touchdown reception in the season opener against Thiel proved to be a team-long mark. He is tied with Slutter for second on the team in receiving touchdowns.
The Eagles special teams had fresh faces taking on big roles. Senior Ken Kysor (Port Allegany, Pa./Port Allegany) took over place kicking duties and went 35-36 in PATs. He earned Centennial Player of the Week honors after making 3-of-4, two over 30 yards, including a career-long 38-yarder in the win over Dickinson. The righty was also recognized by the Fred Mitchell Award, an organization that acknowledges place-kickers for their excellence on the field and in the community.
Continuing his dual role as linebacker and punter, sophomore Jonah Plymire (York, Pa./Central York) had five punts over 50 yards and placed nine inside the 20 with only three touchbacks. His foot earned him 41st nationally in punting.
On the returning side, Slutter used his speed to collect over 450 yards to lead the Centennial and ranking him 40th nationally in kick returns. He was also ranked in all purpose yards.
"There were countless unsung heroes on this football team because those guys all understood that they had a role to play," state Launtz. "And they understood that yeah, I may not have the statistics or I may not see my name, but I'm playing for my teammate and I know what the end result will be when I do my job. That speaks volumes for how these guys care about one another."
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