By Marian Valanoski
For The Daily Item
HEGINS — Tri-Valley has grown up since its nail-biting victory over Juniata that went down until the game’s final snap in the second week of the 2013 season. On Friday, the experience gained from that encounter helped the Bulldogs play on rather than panic and remain undefeated.
Instead of worrying and sitting back on their heels when Millersburg trimmed a 21-point deficit with two quick scores to start the second half, Tri-Valley answered with two touchdowns of its own and never look back, beating the Indians, 41-28, to highlight homecoming in a Tri-Valley League contest at Bulldogs Stadium.
“We didn’t respond well to adversity against Juniata in that second game and panicked,” Tri-Valley coach Mike Ulichny said. “That game came down to the final play but tonight our players did not loose their cool and responded by just doing what they do best against Millersburg and we were able to regain control of the momentum.”
Defense was the focal point of the opening quarter and the Bulldogs (6-0) tallied all the points they would need 1:37 into the game when Hunter Harner picked off Christian Wingard’s errant throw and returned the interception 39 yards for the touchdown. John Snyder converted the first of five PAT kicks for a 7-0 lead that carried into the second stanza.
The Indians (2-4) had no answer for Harner’s slippery moves as the junior quarterback opened the second quarter with a 10-yard touchdown run set up by a nifty 32-yard scamper and a great block on the perimeter by Jaden Buchanan and then helped the Bulldogs go up 21-0 when he circled left end and raced 75 yards to pay dirt.
Tanner Coleman collected the defense’s second scoring play of the half when he picked off Wingard and went practically untouched down the sideline for a 48-yard score.
Wingard — who completed 13 passes in the loss — helped the Indians avert being shut out in the first half by running twice for seven yards and then finding Austin Lehman behind the secondary for a 30-yatrd gain to the Tri-Valley 22. Two plays later, Cole Shomper swept left end for a 15-yad touchdown and Wingard added the conversion kick for a 28-7 tally.
Tri-Valley muffed the second half kickoff with Millersburg recovering at the 48. Trickery played a role in the scoring drive when on fourth down and nine, Connor Keim faked a punt and raced 16 yards for a key first down. Two pass completions advanced the ball to the one where the freshman signal caller bulled his way in for the score.
On the next series, Tri-Valley fumbled with Austin Marks recovering for the Indians at the Bulldogs’ 33. Two plays later, Wingard found Lehman all alone in the back of the end zone for the score and suddenly the tally was 28-21.
“We rallied rather than panic,” Ulichny said.
Coleman — who finished the game with 135 yards rushing — completed a 58-yard drive with a 12-yard score run and Chase Schaeffer later went around the left end for a 12-yard touchdown and the lead suddenly ballooned back to double digits, 41-21.
Harner led all rushers in the game with 154 yards as the Bulldogs shredded the Indians’ defense for 310 yards rushing while the Tri-Valley defense limited the visitors to just 87.
“Our two backs are exciting and are running behind a veteran line,” Ulicny said. “However, we need to be more balanced and improve our passing game.”
The Bulldogs intercepted five passes in the victory but gave up 180 through the air.
Tri-Valley takes its unbeaten record on the road next FRiday to Williams Valley, which lost for the first time this year to Pine Grove, 14-6.