PHILADELPHIA — The State College football team had hoped to exact some revenge, even if it did have to wait a year to do so.
Exactly one year to the day that State College blew a 21-3 lead and dropped a 34-24 home decision to Philadelphia’s Father Judge High School, the Little Lions shook off the early rust from a four-hour bus ride to earn their vengeance in a 33-23 victory.
“We had mentioned during the week how they had stolen the game from us last season,” said junior quarterback Patrick Irwin, who threw for 138 yards and three touchdown passes. “At halftime, we talked about how we wanted to steal this one from them.”
The win pushed the Little Lions to 3-0, but it was anything but easy.
The Crusaders (1-2) jumped to a quick 14-0 lead within the first five minutes. The Little Lions looked tired, but not completely deflated, and they responded with Irwin’s two long touchdown passes in the second quarter to claw back to within a point at halftime. The first went 42 yards down the near sideline to
junior Greg Kellar, while the second went to senior Dan Fry for 70 yards on a similar play down the sideline.
“After the bus ride wore off, we were able to go out there and play some football,” State College coach Al Wolski said. “We settled down defensively and were able to stop them and found something that worked on offense and were able to move the football.”
Father Judge’s Brandon Spatz returned an Irwin interception 58 yards for a touchdown to open the third quarter to push the Father Judge lead to 21-13. However, the Lions defense stood tall the rest of the way, forcing a third-quarter fumble that led to the go-ahead score (a 7-yard run from Chris Theis, who led the way with 85 yards on nine carries in place of the injured Andrew Kelly) and two critical fourth quarter interceptions from Fry, including one at the goal line with five minutes to play.
Father Judge gained just 38 total yards in the second half, while the Little Lions efficiently moved the football and wore down the opponent’s defense.
“Our defense did a great job stepping up in the second half,” Irwin said. “It seemed like we let up no yards in the second half. They just did a great job closing off the holes that were open in the first half. From there, the offense just focused on moving the ball the rest of the way.”
Irwin was sacked six times and completed just five of his 12 passing attempts, but three of them went for touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 junior showed a calm poise in the second half and made big plays when needed, as did Theis and senior Ryan Goeke (13 carries, 78 yards, TD).
Wolski was especially complimentary of his quarterback, who rallied the team from a two-touchdown deficit on the road.
“He did a really nice job, and he’s only going to get better,” Wolski said. “He’s a good athlete that throws the ball well and can run a little bit too. He’s only going to get better as he gains more confidence. We want to see him progress each game, and so far he has. He made a few mistakes, but as that confidence grows, so will he.”
Samir Bullock led the way for Father Judge with 16 carries for 90 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Quarterback Ryan Mackiewicz completed 6 passes for 113 yards, 84 of which were hauled in by receiver Max Pascavitch, who had a 43-yard touchdown catch
for the first score of the game. The Crusaders, of Philadelphia’s Catholic League, recently returned home from Ireland, where they opened their season with a loss 20-6 to Notre Dame Prep from Scottsdale, Ariz.
As for the Little Lions, they were thankful for the opportunity to come play at Father Judge, and even more thankful to escape with a victory heading into next week’s homecoming game against Harrisburg.
“Last year we started 0-3 before finishing 8-5 and making the playoffs,” Wolski said. “It’s much nicer to be 3-0 heading into the Harrisburg game. They’ve got a very good team, so all of our energy is going to go into beating them now. I’m really proud of our players and coaches to bounce back in this one. It showed a lot of class on their part.”