MILL HALL — Darian Herncane made back-to-back highlight-reel catches Friday night.
The first came on defense, the second on offense.
A pass intended for Central Mountain receiver Cody Barner thrown from deep in the Wildcats’ territory glanced off Barner’s hands, deflecting wildly into the air. Herncane, a safety on defense, was falling backward but managed to secure the ball, now traveling end-over-end, with two hands.
On the next play, an offensive strike, Herncane bounded down the right sideline and fully extended his right arm to snag an overthrown ball for a 40-yard touchdown. Herncane’s one-handed grab extended a Little Lions’ lead
that inflated early in State College’s 36-7 rout of the Wildcats.
“I was cheating to the right side and I noticed the wide receiver coming across the field and I came back in my zone and just got lucky with the catch,” Herncane said of the first of his two interceptions on the night.
The touchdown pass from Patrick Irwin? It was more about skill.
“Their corners were cheating in and we were looking to beat them deep for a touchdown,” Herncane said.
While the deep ball worked for the Little Lions in this instance, State College was able to keep the ball for the majority of the game relying on its own solid ground game and superior speed.
Senior running back Ryan Goeke rushed for 100 yards on seven carries. Andrew Kelly added 46 yards on eight carries with a touchdown and also burned the Central Mountain defense for a 51-yard receiving touchdown in the second quarter.
The Little Lions sprinkled in four carries from speedster Ebrahim Britton and gained 53 more yards.
\Britton’s first carry, which didn’t come until early in the second quarter, went to the left and the senior slipped through tackle after tackle for a 45-yard touchdown run.
Britton’s score gave the Little Lions a 29-0 lead at halftime.
“We have speed at the running back, we have speed at receiver and our linemen are nice and athletic,” State College coach Al Wolski said. “And we told our linemen that they could be one of the best offensive lines we’ve had since we’ve been here because of their athleticism and we have size, too.”
While the Little LIon offensive line paved the way for its skill players to rush for a combined 272 yards on 29 carries, the State College defense did its part, too.
The Little Lions forced two first-quarter turnovers and cashed in with touchdowns each time to put the game out of reach early. State College limited a potentially dangerous Central Mountain run game led by vaunted rusher Von Walker to just 94 yards on 25 carries. Walker finished with 107 yards on the night, but four surrendered sacks brought the team’s total down.
“We thought we were a little stronger up front,” Wolski said. “We respected Walker and (Drew Alexander), we knew they were two really fine players and can beat you and score at any minute and he proved that.”
After a 32-yard field goal from Ian Fennessey followed by Herncane’s 40-yard scoring catch, the Wildcats drove from their 17-yard-line to midfield. While the drive started with a 16-yard run from Alexander, it ended when the senior running back fumbled at the Wildcat 47. Kelly recovered for State College and the Little Lions needed just two plays — a seven-yard run from Kelly and a 32-yard quarterback keeper from Irwin— to increase their lead to 16-0.
Central Mountain went nowhere on its next drive, but was able to force its first turnover of the game when Kelly had the ball pried form his grasp by a host of Wildcats. But Central Mountain would gain just four yards on three plays and were forced to punt again.
State College took advantage of good field position after a punt return set the Little Lions up at midfield. Two plays later, Irwin was firing to Kelly who scored from 51 yards out.
The Wildcats’ offense stalled again as quarterback Travis Turchetta misfired on a deep ball intended for a wide-open Tyler Pavalko. After a Central Mountain punt, State College’s offense got a boost from Britton who raced 45 yards to cap the first-half scoring.
Central Mountain mounted its longest drive of the night afterward, however.
Led by Walker and Alexander, the Wildcats began at their own 25 with just over 10 minutes to play. Surging down the field behind a 26-yard run from Walker and a 22-yard pass hookup between Turchetta and Renninger, the Wildcats hurt themselves again when a Turchetta throw to the end zone was intercepted by Herncane.
Goeke, who said he played his best offensive game yet, resumed his career night with a 46-yard run that set up a 10-yard touchdown run from Kelly two plays later to begin the third quarter.
“I think from the get-go I was really confident,” Goeke said. “It’s easier to run those big runs when you’ve got a really great line in front of you.”
Travis Johnson can be reached at 231-4629. Follow him on Twitter @traviswjohnson_