The players on opposite sidelines of the Friday evening, September 8football game between the East Juniata Tigers and the Juniata Indians knew it would be the last time they would be staring at each other across the line of scrimmage. Because of a Juniata County School District Board of Directors decision to combine the two schools’ football programs, the players will be in the same huddle next year, all as members of a combined team based at Juniata.
Thus last Friday night's game at Beaver Springs brought about heightened emotions in the Tiger players—and virtually everyone else in the stadium pulling for the home team—the cheerleaders, the band, and the fans. The cross-county gridiron rivalry has long been a highlight of football season. The contest has seen some changes over the decades. There were years when the two teams shared Dietrick Field in Mifflintown as their home field, thus each clash of the Tigers and the Indians offered a home field atmosphere for both squads. For a while, because they played in different leagues, there was no competition between the two. But, over the past several seasons, the rivalry has been alive and well, and, last week, the game that would mark the end of an era was no different.
Juniata scored first, but their seven points were equaled when Owen Zechman caught a throw from quarterback Marc Piccioni, and completed a 42-yard touchdown. The two teams remained tied for much of the remainder of the first half, before Juniata scored twice late in the second quarter. The Indians’ offense proved strong in the second half, but during the two 12-minute quarters, Tiger fans had their share of thrills on just-off-the-fingertips passes and an impressive, confidence building fumble recovery by John Moyer. A field goal by Cole Sauer gave the team their final points ever against their county rivals.
When the teams met for the post-game handshakes, everyone knew that the next time the hands of the East Juniata players touched those of their Indian counterparts, it would be in a celebratory high-five between teammates. And like the true sportsmen they are, EJ's current football players who choose to continue their scholastic gridiron careers next year, will be loyal to their new Indian team—but, somewhere deep within them will always beat the heart of a Tiger.