By JEFFREY L. NORRIS
Juniata Valley scored a pair of touchdowns 14 seconds apart late in the second period to open a 20-0 lead on visiting Homer-Center in a District 6-A quarterfinal game Saturday night at Alexandria. The third-seeded Hornets added 21 more points in the second half to eliminate the sixth-seeded Wildcats 41-6.
Making their playoff debut, the Hornets improved to 10-4 on the season. The will host seventh-seeded Purchase Line (8-4) Saturday at 7 p.m. The Red Dragons advanced with a 25-6 upset at second-seeded Portage Friday.
Homer-Center got the ball first Saturday and marched down the field to a first and goal at right at the Valley 10. Quarterback Ben Schmidt was sacked on second down at the 16, then was called for intentional grounding forcing the Wildcats into fourth and goal from the 33. Schmidt threw toward the end zone, but the ball was picked off at the one by Valley’s Jacob Hensor.
Starting at their own five, the Hornets gained to the seven on first down, the quarterback Caden Rupert was intercepted at the 31 by Owen Cochran, who returned the ball 11 yards to the Valley 20.
A sack and two incompletions gave the Hornets the ball back at their own 30.
Valley got the ball to the Wildcat 39, then Ryan Betres went off right tackle and rumbled 39 yards for the first TD of the night. Jefferson Hill kicked the PAT and the Hornets led 7-0 with 4:58 left in the first period.
The teams traded possessions until late in the half.
Valley started at its own 20 after a punt into the end zone. A 50-yard completion from Rupert to Brown moved the ball to the 28. Rupert followed with a 14-yard pass to Hensor, Betres ran for third and Brower added 10 to give the Hornets first-and-goal at the one. Grant Musser took the snap in a “wildcat” formation and powered in for the touchdowns. Hill’s kick made it 14-0 with 2:22 left in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, Cobe Dougherty took the ball at the ball at the 29, but fumbled and the Hornets recovered at the 16. On the first play, Rupert tossed to Hensor, wide open on a slant, for the TD. Hill missed the kick, but the Hornets led 20-0 with 2:08 left.
Homer-Center got the ball to the Hornet 34, but time ran out.
“We didn’t have the ball much early in the game, but still had a 7-0 lead,” said Hornet coach Bill Musser. “We played tough defense and got that two touchdowns late in the half. They were huge and gave us momentum heading into halftime.”
The Hornets were forced to punt on the first possession of the second half, but the Wildcats had to start from their own two.
Homer-Center moved the ball to a third-and-11 at their own 20 when Schmidt dropped a 70-yard bomb to Drew Kochman to the Hornet 10. Walbeck went to the first on first down, then Schmidt had a pair on incompletions. On fourth down, Schmidt threw a pass that was nearly intercepted, but the ball deflected on the hands of the defender into the arms of Kochman for the TD. Travis Mock came up short on a two-point conversion run.
The Hornets answered with a 79-yard, seven-play drive to answer. Betres ran for 34 yards to get things going, then Brower went 30 yards to the one. Again, Musser took the direct snap and powered in for the TD. Hill converted and it was 27-6 at the end of the third quarter.
“Homer-Center came out strong to start the second half and scored,” Musser noted. “Our senior leaders did a good job of getting our kids together and focused on what they needed to do. I was really pleased with how our defense played tonight.”
The Wildcats tried to put together an answer of their own, but the Hornets stole the ball away from Walbeck and took over at their own 24.
Aided by a personal foul, Valley went 76 yards in five plays – the biggest a 31 yard pass down the right sideline to Hunter Johnson to give the Hornets first-and-goal at the three. In motion, Musser took a pitch from Rupert, then threw to Brower in the end zone for a TD with 9:13 left in the game.
The next time the Hornets had the ball, they put together another 76-yard drive. Rupter threw 13 yards to Brower, Betres ran for 19 and Jayce Rand broke free for 35 to the Homer-Center three. After Rand lost a year, Rupert called his own number and scored from the four. Hill’s PAT kick set the final score and started the ”Mercy Clock” with 5:18 left.
GAME NOTES: Brower had a huge game for the Hornets, rushing for 117 yards and catching four passes for another 71 and a TD … Betres took advantage of his big runs and finished with 101 net rushing yards and a TD … “Brower had a really great game tonight,” Musser stated. “He worked hard to have that success. I was very happy with our offensive line. They were maligned early in the year, but have matured and made it possible to have two 100-yard runners tonight.” … Rupert was also part of that group, completing 10 of 15 passes for 162 yards and a TD with one interception … Hensor caught three balls for 37 yards and a TD and also had the interception defensively … Walbeck finished with 72 yards and the Wildcats had 107 as a team … Schmidt completed 15 of 33 passes for 150 yards and a TD with one interception … Kochman had six catches for 111 yards and a TD, while Mock had six grabs for 29 yards … The Hornets had a pair of turnovers, while forcing four by Homer-Center … “Homer-Center has been a standard bearer for Class A football for a lot of years and for us to play them as we did tonight and to win this game is something to be proud of.” Musser concluded.