By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
HEGINS — After defense ruled Tri-Valley’s win over Newport last week, East Juniata could quickly turn this week into a track meet.
Both teams, who meet Friday night in a Tri-Valley league contest, have electrifying options on offense that can turn the momentum of a game any time that the ball is in their hands. Hunter Harner has led the way for Tri-Valley this year under center but may be more dangerous when he is outside the pocket.
Harner has thrown for two scores but has called his own number frequently to sprint ahead for yardage, averaging 152 yards per game on the ground with five touchdowns.
“The big thing for us is that we (have to) keep contain (on Harner),” Tigers head coach Simon Cameron said. “If he tries to run the ball, (we have to) contain on him. We need to work on taking the pass away.”
Cameron added that the play of the Tigers’ defensive line will be important in deciding which team walks away with a win.
Cameron said that Harner has the ability to call his own number off of a designed quarterback run or wait for a running lane to open and scramble for yardage.
“He gets better blocking on the designed runs,” Cameron said. “Overall, he’s a pretty decent athlete.”
If Harner is on the defensive side of the ball, he may have to cover a player that is as versatile as he is in the Tigers’ David Brantley.
Brantley has been a lightning rod in the backfield, averaging an absurd 14 yards per carry while putting his body on the line as a wide receiver, diving for balls thrown where either he catches the ball or it falls incomplete.
Tri-Valley coach Mike Ulicny is well aware of the talents of Brantley.
“Defensively, the biggest challenge will be stopping Brantley,” Ulicny said. He is a fast, strong back that can make a play from anywhere on the field.”
Ulicny added, however, “The problem is if you key on him, (East Juniata) has some other quality players on their offense that can hurt you.”
The versatility that Brantley has shown can cause mismatches for the Tigers as Brantley could be going in the backfield, under center or as a wide receiver before the Tigers break the huddle.
Brantley’s explosiveness has helped Josh Zimmerman to find open receivers including talented wide-out Kevin Allen. The Tigers used Brantley as well as trick plays to create throwing lanes last week against Pine Grove.
Double-reverses and halfback passes worked to some degree but the Tigers fell to the Cardinals for their first loss of the season.
“The big thing is that (the players) realize the positives they had,” Cameron said. “Pine Grove was greatly improved.”
The Tigers will have to continue their solid play against a difficult Tri-Valley squad. While the Bulldogs haven’t necessarily blown teams out of the water, undefeated is still undefeated no matter the margin of victory.
After beating Annville-Cleona by 18 to start the season, the last two Bulldogs’ wins have been decided by one score, including a 13-7 win over Newport last week.
Cameron said in practice this week, he will stress the way that his players performed for much of the game against a Pine Grove team that came in waves at the Tigers defense.
“We hung in there until the third quarter,” Cameron said. “At no point did they really give up. (Pine Grove) will be a tough team this year.”
Cameron added that the resiliency of his team against Pine Grove could have a lasting effect on the rest of the season.
“I think it’s going to help us against Tri-Valley,” Cameron said. “I think it’s going to prove that we can hang with any team in the league this year.”