After earning a week off, the Juniata Valley football team will open defense of its District 6-A title with a quarterfinal matchup against Homer-Center Saturday evening at A.R. Simkins Field. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Hornets (8-2) were the third seed in the 12-team field and got a first-round bye. Seeded sixth, the Wildcats (7-4) opened last weekend with a 24-6 first-round victory over Northern Cambria.
Valley will be looking for its fourth district class A title. They won back-to-back crowns in 1986 and 1987, then didn’t win again until defeating United 36-20 in the championship game.
The Hornets didn’t graduate a lot of players off that team last spring, but they were some key people. They were not easy to replace, but Valley has done a solid job of filling those spots.
“I believe this season has gone pretty well,” said Valley coach Bill Musser. “We were inexperienced in spots, but we’ve been able to work through some adversity and get better. We’re where we want to be and we’re looking forward to what’s coming.
“We spent our bye week getting some reps and building depth. We got a chance to work on the speed of the game in the playoffs. We’re healthy and ready to go.”
The Wildcats have won their last two starts after dropping three straight decisions. The ended the regular season with a 16-15 win over Shade before downing Northern Cambria in the first round.
“Offensively, they run out of a spread,” Musser scouts. “The quarterback is a good athlete and they have two nice receiver. One is tall and both move very well. Up front, they are scrappy and form a very solid unit. Passing, they’ll take four or five shots downfield each game. They look to move the ball with chunk plays.
“Defensively, they’ve show both four- and five-man fronts and they like to blitz. They have good size up front, but we hope to be able to take advantage of them with our passing game.
“On special teams, they nearly always go for the two-point conversion. Their punter and kicker are average. In the return game, they have one guy who really gets moving and we’ll need to contain him.”
The Hornets will go with no changes in the starting lineups.
On offense, Jacob Hensor and Hunter Johnson are the wide receivers. Gabe Brower is in the slot and Grant Musser is the H-back. Daniel Wagner is the left tackle, Jonathan Bouch will be the left guard and Travis Dively is the center. Seth Kurtz is the right guard and Elliott Showalter the right tackle.
Caden Rupert is the quarterback and Ryan Betres the fullback.
Betres is the leader in the running game for the Hornets with 851 yards and nine touchdowns on the season. Brower adds 505 yards and five TDs.
Rupert has completed 106 of 176 pass attempts for 1,481 yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s been picked off seven times.
Musser leads the receivers with 29 catches for 275 yards and three touchdowns. Hensor and Brower each have 23 grabs, Hensor for 463 yards and six TDs and Brower for 356 yards and three TDs.
Defensively, Isaac Watson and Showalter are the ends, while Austin Dick and Kurts are the tackles. Ben Carolus and Grant Musser are the outside linebackers, flanking Betres on the inside. H. Johnson and Brower are at the corners and Landon Reed and Jake Johnson are the safeties.
Hunter Johnson is the punter and Jefferson Hill handles the place kicking duties.
“The biggest key is not turning the ball over,” Musser concluded. “We need to stay within ourselves, keep penalties to a minimum and execute our assignments.”
With temperatures expected to fall in the 20s during the game, Musser is not concerned. “Our kids seem to like the cold weather. They’ve handled it well in practice this week and I think they’ll be fine once the game heats up Saturday night.
The winner of this game will advance to the semifinal round against the winner of tonight’s contest between Purchase Line and second-seeded Portage.