SELINSGROVE, Pa. – The 2014 football season came to an end on Saturday for Susquehanna but unfortunately the ending did not go as scripted. The Crusaders fell at home to rival Juniata, 44-35, on both Homecoming Weekend and Senior Day.
While the Eagles retain the Goal Post Trophy, SU still maintains a 28-26-1 lead in the trophy series.
With Juniata leading 44-35 with 4:53 to play, the remaining minutes of the game saw the teams combine for five turnovers but the Eagles managed to get the ball back with 2:09 to play and ran out the clock for the win.
Junior Kwane Hayle (Poughkeepsie, N.Y./Poughkeepsie) put up big numbers in both the receiving and special teams games, catching six balls for a game-high 117 yards and two scores while also returning one kickoff 83 yards for another touchdown.
Freshman quarterback Nick Crusco (Oak Ridge, N.J./Don Bosco Prep) went 26-for-41 for 289 yards but threw three picks, two of which came in those final minutes of regulation.
Ian Richardson (Hatfield, Pa./Calvary Christian), playing in the final game of his collegiate career, ran the ball 19 times for 140 yards while also catching a team-best seven balls for 34 yards.
While the SU defense got off to a rough start – allowing 13 points in just the first 10 minutes of the game – the squad did hold the Eagles to 127 rushing yards. Jim Barry (Staten Island, N.Y./Brooklyn Poly Prep) again led the way with 11 tackles and one sack.
Juniata scored on its very first possession of the afternoon, driving the ball 73 yards on seven plays with the final play culminating in a Deonte Alston four-yard rushing touchdown. A missed extra point made it just 6-0 in favor of the Eagles but a mere seven minutes later, Ward Udinski found Kirby Breault in the SU endzone for a nine-yard touchdown pass and a 13-0 ballgame.
Udinski finished the contest 29-for-34 passing for 390 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 65 yards and three scores.
The first quarter came to a close with the Crusaders still in search of their first points of the game but with 5:19 on the clock in the second quarter, Crusco found a wide open Jordan Zezza (Exeter, Pa./Wyoming Area) in the Juniata endzone and the sophomore reeled in his first career touchdown pass for a 13-7 game.
The Eagles countered with a field goal on the following drive but on the ensuing Juniata kickoff, Hayle showed off his track speed by returning the kick 83 yards to the Eagles endzone for a two-point game, 16-14.
As was the theme of the day, though, Juniata responded with more points of its own, this time a Udinski touchdown pass to Alston and the half ultimately came to a close with the Eagles ahead 23-14.
The Crusaders came out of halftime on a mission – and with a bag full of tricks. An eight-play, 73-yard drive was capped off by a Taylor Kolmer (Churchville, N.Y./Churchville-Chili) pass to Crusco to again make it a two-point game (23-21) with 12 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Udinski took matters into his own hands, though. He scored the Eagles' next touchdown on a one-yard quarterback keeper for a 30-21 lead before Crusco found Hayle for the junior's second touchdown of the game to again trim Juniata's lead to two (30-28).
Another Udinski one-yard rushing score bumped Juniata's lead back up to nine (37-28), which is how the third quarter came to a close.
Fans who thought the first three quarters were action packed were in for a treat over the final 15 minutes of play.
Yet again SU made it a two-point game when Hayle scored his third touchdown of the afternoon, a 36-yard pass from Crusco just 53 seconds into the quarter. Unfortunately, the Eagles put up seven more points on Udinski's third one-yard rushing touchdown.
With 11:01 still to play, the game was far from out of reach for Susquehanna but this was when the turnover bug bit both squads.
First, Crusco fumbled the ball with 9:40 to play which was recovered by the Eagles at the Susquehanna 27-yard line. Then Juniata kicker Ken Kysor missed a 37-yard field goal attempt that would have made it 47-35 but SU could not capitalize on the miss as Crusco threw a pick on third and two at the Juniata 41-yard line.
Fortunately for the Crusaders, Udinski fumbled the ball just seconds later and SU's Mike Hetherington (Millburn, N.J./St. Peter's Prep) came up with the ball at the Susquehanna 41-yard line. Crusco promptly threw his second pick of the game on the very next play before it was Udinski's turn to turn the ball over on a fumble that Barry recovered at the Juniata 37-yard line.
Susquehanna's momentum from that turnover was halted when Crusco threw his third interception, this time at the Juniata goal line, effectively ending a chance at a SU comeback.
The Crusaders end the season with an overall record of 2-8 with a Centennial Conference mark of 2-7.