GROVE CITY, Pa.- Joel Reighard (Altoona, Pa. Altoona HS) picked off a pass in the endzone with less than 10 seconds remaining to play as Juniata survived a late Grove City drive and defeated the Wolverines 31-26 on Saturday afternoon. It is the Eagles' fourth straight win in the series.
The game initially had the makings of a defensive battle but it was anything besides that. The Wolverines took the early lead 6-0 with 1:41 to play in the first quarter as quarterback Brett Laffoon passed to Nick Ponikvar for 30 yards for the score.
The Eagles took over on their next possession and were faced with a third and 12 from their own 22-yard line. Quarterback Hank Coyne (Royersford, Pa./Spring-Ford) then hit AJ Brocato (Abington, Md./Patterson Mill) for a 74-yard connection and Brocato raced down to the GC four-yard line. On first and goal, David Vidovic (Hohenfels, Germany/Hohenfels) took the carry and rumbled into the end zone for the touchdown. Kevin Bonalle's (Lebanon, Pa./Cedar Crest) extra point gave JC a 7-6 lead with just 53 seconds having elapsed in the second quarter.
The Eagle defense would force a Wolverine punt on their next possession. Juniata took over at its own 28. Coyne completed an eight-yard pass to Aaron O'Brien (York, Pa./York Catholic) for eight yards and a JC first down at their own 40. Kirby Breault (Elizabethtown, Pa./Elizabethtown) then took the handoff from Coyne and ran 60 yards for what initially was a touchdown but was brought back seven yards because of a holding penalty. Vidovic ran twice for nine yards to the GC eight. Juniata elected to go for it on fourth down and the gamble paid off as Vidovic scored with ease and Bonalle's extra point made it 14-6 in the Eagles' favor with just over nine minutes to play in the half.
The Wolverines answered back with a Laffoon pass to Brett Pinson for a 33-yard score and the extra point shrunk JC's lead to 14-13 at 7:30. On Juniata's ensuing possession, the Eagles responded as Coyne found Breault for a 32-yard touchdown with 3:42 remaining in the frame and Juniata's lead was back to eight, 21-13.
Juniata had a chance to increase its lead after Reighard intercepted a Laffoon pass and ran it down to the GC 23. JC could not capitalize as the Eagles went four and out. Both teams exchanged possessions and the score remained 21-13 at halftime.
Grove City began the second half with possession and marched 90 yards in 13 plays that ended with Laffoon calling his own number on a 9-yard touchdown run and the JC lead was now 21-20. Neither team would gain any offensive momentum for the remainder of the third quarter.
The Wolverines punted to begin the fourth quarter and Juniata started its drive at its own 41. On a third and 11 from the 40, Coyne hooked up with Breault for a 27-yard completion to go to the GC 33. The Eagles got the the GC 14 where the drive ended and Bonalle converted a 31-yard field goal to make the game 24-20.
The JC defense forced the Wolverines to punt. Juniata methodically moved downfield and into Grove City territory. Vidovic converted a big third down with a 12-yard run to get the ball to the GC 11. On third-and-9, Coyne found O'Brien near the back of the endzone for the touchdown and Bonalle's extra point gave Juniata a little more breathing room and upped the advantage to 31-20 with 5:19 to play in the game.
Grove City would not go away as Laffoon completed four passes with the last one going to Pinson for a 16-yard score. The Wolverines attempted a two-point conversion but Laffoon's pass fell short and the score stood at 31-26.
Juniata tried to run as much clock as it could but only managed to gain a total of four yards and punted the ball away with a little over two minutes to play in the game. Starting at their own 34, the Wolverines moved into Juniata territory thanks to a Laffoon to Wesley Schools eight- yard completion and a pass interference call on the Eagles. A sack on first down by Andrew Paterno (Waynesboro, Pa./Waynesboro) pushed GC back to midfield forced it to call a timeout. Two Laffoon completions and a run gave GC a first down at the JC 28. With first and 10 at the JC 18 and 16 seconds left to play, a holding penalty on Grove City pushed the ball back to the Juniata 28. With 11 ticks remaining and following a timeout, Lafoon heaved a pass into the endzone that Reighard was able to step in front for the pick and secure the Eagle win.
Overall, Juniata outgained Grove City 444 to 410. While the Wolverines had more passing yards (347-267), the Eagles piled up 177 rushing yards to just 67 for Grove City. Juniata was 10-of-22 (45%) on third downs and 2-of-3 (67%) on its fourth down attempts.
Coyne completed 17-of-34 passes for 267 yards and two scores. He was intercepted once. Vidovic ran 21 times for 80 yards and two touchdowns. Calvin Bembry (Hagerstown, Md./North Hagerstown) added 16 touches for 65 yards. Breault ran twice for 54 yards.
In the air, Breault ended the day with seven catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. Brocato had two grabs for 54 yards. O'Brien caught four balls for 30 yards and a scored once.
Defensively, Jake Diviney (Altoona, Pa./Altoona Area HS) had 13 total tackles. Mitchell Shober (Stevens, Pa./Cocalico) added 11 tackles with John Michael Maclay (Reedsville, Pa./Mifflin County) totaling 10 stops. Reighard picked up six tackles, two interceptions, and a pass breakup.
Juniata hosts Dickinson next Saturday at Knox Stadium in the Centennial Conference opener for both teams. Kickoff will be at 1:00 p.m.