STATE COLLEGE — State Colleges veteran coaches spent the preseason barking at the defensive line. At times, players didnt like it.
But Fridays opener against Bethlehem Liberty demonstrated the reasoning behind the prodding. The Little Lions boast a front four filled with potential.
The quartet of Amir Haywood, Evan Galimberti, Adam De Boef and Lonnie Koudela held the District 11 Hurricanes to 42 rushing yards as the Little Lions rolled to a 26-7 victory at a packed Memorial Field.
We played really solid, Galimberti said. We showed up. The coaches were giving us a lot of hassle in practice. I think we stepped up.
Manhandling a respected Week 1 opponent contrasted the way State College started recent seasons. The Little Lions visited North Allegheny the last two years and returned home a bruised group.
This year, the big game came to them, and the Little Lions responded with a crisp performance. State College committed no turnovers, displayed offensive balance and held Liberty scoreless for the final 34:54.
This was an opener against a quality football team from the Lehigh Valley, State College coach Al Wolski said. Our kids just answered what they needed to answer defensively. It was probably one of our better wins from an all-round standpoint.
Liberty scored its only touchdown on K.J. Williams 80-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter. The quick-strike ability of Williams, a dynamic junior receiving interest from Penn State who had 205 all-purpose yards, didnt fluster a State College team returning 11 starters.
The Little Lions scored 13 points in the final four minutes of the first half as junior quarterback Patrick Irwin found a rhythm behind his offensive line, which also included Haywood, Galimberti and De Boef, a trio that averages 267 pounds per man. Galimberti and De Boef both stand 6-foot-5, giving the Little Lions a pair of towering offensive tackles.
On defense, the 300-pound Haywood and Galimberti are disruptive interior linemen. De Boef and Lonnie Koudela, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who forced a fumble and had a sack, play defensive end.
We played outstanding, Haywood said. We stayed low, we went hard, we went tough. We didnt give up. We didnt miss very many tackles.
Libertys longest run was Williams 17-yard scamper on a fake punt in the first quarter. The Hurricanes longest conventional run went for 9 yards.
Like the Little Lions, the Hurricanes operate an option attack. Wolski said he didnt know what to expect from his defensive line following some of this weeks practices.
We were really concerned defensively because of the midline and veer, he said. All week in practice we were giving them the midline and the veer. The scout team was getting yardage because we werent disciplined. Tonight we were disciplined and thats a credit to our defensive staff.
State College held a 21-8 edge in first downs. The Little Lions rushed for 247, with Andrew Kelly and Irwin gaining 77 and 75 yards, respectively. Newcomer Ebrahim Britton started at cornerback and played two offensive series, gaining 35 yards on four carries in the third quarter. His 10-yard touchdown run gave State College a 23-7 lead.
Just before the half I had that feeling and then I saw what I did in the locker room, said Liberty coach Dave Brown, whose team was acclimating 20 new starters. We ended up getting worn down and made some mistakes that hurt us, which is what young football teams do.
Ian Fennessey booted two secondhalf goals, including one from 38 yards with nine minutes remaining, to pad the lead. State College had a chance to expand its lead in the final minute. But the game ended with Wolski ordering Irwin, who completed 8 of 14 passes for 73 yards, to take a knee at the Hurricane 2.
This feels great, Galimberti said. We havent done anything close to this to start the last two years. Its a big change.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy