Football 3

ALEXANDRIA, Pa. – There was a juncture in Friday night’s District 6 Class 1A semifinal when Portage appeared on the verge of stealing the momentum from top-seeded Juniata Valley and tying up the game in the second quarter.

Instead, it was the Green Hornets who turned the tables on the visiting Mustangs with first a big stop and then a big play.

Following an unsuccessful fourth-down conversion by Portage at the Juniata Valley 10, Hornet quarterback Palmer Lambert broke into the clear on a 91-yard touchdown run that staggered the Mustangs’ upset hopes in what turned out to be a season-ending 21-7 defeat at a chilly A.R. Simkins Field.

Portage finished the year 7-4 after a 6-0 start. Ty Kennedy accounted for the Mustangs’ only touchdown on a 5-yard fumble return with 9:54 to play, but Portage’s last two desperation attempts to make it a one-score game ended on an interception and a turnover on downs as Juniata Valley improved to 10-1 and earned a shot at reigning champ Bishop Guilfoyle in next week’s championship game.

Portage moved the ball, as Oren Heidler rushed for 102 yards on 18 carries and Jon Wolford tacked on 75 yards over 23 attempts. However, three Mustangs drives stalled on the Juniata Valley 9, 12 and 5.

“We didn’t put points on the board,” Mustang senior wideout Kaden Claar lamented. “We didn’t have an offensive touchdown tonight. It hurts. It’s not a good feeling to go out like this after we had set our goals high. We set our goals for the district championship. It stings.”

Mustang coach Marty Slanoc said two things had to happen if Portage was to reverse a 43-7 loss to Juniata Valley in last year’s quarterfinals.

“We would have to eliminate the big play and we would have to eliminate our mistakes pre-snap,” Slanoc said. “We just weren’t able to overcome those.”

Portage only had six penalties, but five were pre-snap flags that got the Mustangs behind the sticks, a position they could ill-afford to be in because their gameplan was built around keeping manageable downs and distances.

On the other side of the ball, the Mustangs held Juniata Valley to its third-fewest points of the season, but the Green Hornets were able to tip the scales with a couple of chunk plays.

After a miscue on a shotgun snap derailed Portage’s opening drive, Juniata Valley only needed four plays to traverse 59 yards and score the contest’s first points, Jake Johnson’s 35-yard scamper setting up a Andrew McMonagle’s 19-yard score when he managed to get the corner 4:40 into the game.

Portage nearly overcame that, though. When Andrew Miko’s punt hit a member of the Green Hornets punt return team in the foot, the Mustangs retained the ball at Juniata Valley’s 26.

Six plays later, Portage was at the 10, facing fourth-and-5.

Wolford got the call, but Juniata Valley was up to the task, stopping him for a 1-yard gain and taking possession.

“We were good running up the gut,” Heidler said. “Once we got into the red zone, we just couldn’t get more than 5 or 6 yards and couldn’t punch it in.

“We shot ourselves in the foot a lot.”

Juniata Valley quickly took advantage. On first down, Lambert, an addition to the Hornets from their preseason co-op with Williamsburg, faked the handoff, hesitated and then just needed to beat one defender down the visiting sideline to make it 14-0 a minute into the second quarter.

“That was a killer,” Wolford said.

“Their ends were crashing the whole game. Jayce Rand, the running back, carried out the fake really well,” Lambert said. “We kept running it up the middle, so they went with the fake with him, and I pulled it and went to the backside.”

Juniata Valley made it 21-0 on Johnson’s 3-yard run at 6:24 of the third quarter, capping a 16-play, 73-yard monster drive that almost exclusively utilized the wildcat formation. Jackson finished with 127 yards on 15 carries.

“I thought this game was going to be a race to 21,” Hornets coach Bill Musser said.

“(Lambert’s run) was very important. It gave us energy to finish out the half and I think it took some wind out of them.”

Portage ran 39 plays in the first half to Juniata Valley’s 17.

The Green Hornets ended up with 302 yards, all but 16 on the ground.

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