BETHLEHEM — State College failed on two drives inside the final minutes as the Little Lions dropped their football season opener 14-10 against Liberty on Saturday.
Trailing, State College had two shots inside the final eight minutes to gain the lead. After converting on a fourth-and-2, the Little Lions turned the ball over at the Liberty 35 as quarterback Patrick Irwin and running back Derek Van Horn failed to connect on a pitchout and Liberty recovered on the 36 with exactly five minutes left.
The Little Lions’ defense forced a punt after a three-and-out and began their final march with 3:22 left.
Irwin raced 20 yards on a quarterback draw and Jordan Micher raced 20 more to give State College the ball at the Hurricanes 15 with 1:35 remaining.
Micher gained a yard and Irwin gained four before Irwin lost a yard on third down. Needing six yards for a first down and 11 to score, Irwin’s pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage with 21 seconds left.
Late in the first period, State College scored the first touchdown of the night. Irwin found a gaping hole on a quarterback keeper and outraced the secondary for a 54-yard touchdown run. Kevin Cramer’s extra point gave the Little Lions a 7-0 lead with 2:07 left in the period.
Liberty wasted little time getting even, scoring in its next possession. Quarterback Doug Emey found Victor Santiago for a 51-yard strike to tie the game with 1:38 left in the period.
State College pulled ahead in the second quarter as Cramer’s 39-yard field goal at the 3:22 mark gave the Little Lions a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Hurricanes made State College pay for a big gamble in the third quarter. With the ball inside their own territory, the Little Lions tried a fake punt and Irwin was stopped short of the first down. Irwin would also miss a series after being dinged up on the play.
Liberty marched in and scored with Tyrique Scipio going the final three yards.
The Little Lions, who defeated Liberty 26-7 last season, struggled on the ground against the Hurricanes, except for a couple of big gains by Irwin on the draw play.
State College hosts Central Mountain (0-1) in its home opener at the newly renovated Memorial Field on Friday at 7 p.m.