STATE COLLEGE — With 1:11 remaining and his team trailing State College 29-28, Martinsburg’s Malique Watkins stood at the Little Lions’ 35-yard line awaiting a punt from Brett Graham.
Graham booted a ball that Watkins fielded on the run and with a quick burst took his team deep into State College territory.
Two plays later, the senior quarterback broke the huddle without doubt and hit Tory Lee in the end zone for the game-winning score in a 35-29 thriller.
“You just can’t give up,” he said. “No matter how much time is on the clock … you have to have the mindset that you’re going to win that game.”
In an exciting game that saw Patrick Irwin and Anthony Paffie-Misher attempt to will the Little Lions to victory, State College fell agonizingly short after a last-second heave from Irwin was knocked down in a crowded end zone.
“We have some guys that can make plays,” said State College head coach Al Wolski. “Even that last one there could have gone our way.”
Paffie-Misher jumped for the ball and was contacted by a defender in the back of the end zone, but when the Bulldogs weren’t ticketed for interference boos cascaded down from the State College faithful.
In defeat, Irwin carried the Little Lions for long stretches, including a 55-yard rushing score on the team’s first play from scrimmage. He finished 13-for-24 with 144 yards and a score in the air. On the ground, he added 18 carries for 129 and another score.
The versatile Paffie-Misher had an interception and scored on the ground and in the air. Sophomore Jordan Misher added a rushing touchdown and an 81-yard kick return for a score.
However, Watkins and the Bulldogs answered all night. The dynamic quarterback finished 10-for-16 with 140 yards passing and a score. He added 155 more yards on 21 carries and two more rushing touchdowns.
“I was scared for a minute,” Watkins said. “That was the closest game I’ve ever been in. We’ve only lost a game once in like three years, but we fought back (tonight) and got the win.”
Martinsburg, a three-time defending West Virginia Class AAA state champion, fell behind early after Irwin’s initial touchdown, but responded quickly.
Watkins took the ensuing kickoff back to the State College 18. He scored from six yards out three plays later.
Ben Roeshot recaptured the momentum for State College with an interception later in the first, but the offense came up empty.
Momentum was fleeting for both sides all night. Deamonte Lindsay gave Martinsburg brief control with a 39-yard rumble that made it 14-7 Bulldogs after the extra point.
However, Misher tied the game after returning the ensuing kickoff for a score.
Penalties likely made it difficult for either team to separate.
Martinsburg committed nine penalties for 75 yards. State College committed seven for 40.
“We had too many stupid penalties,” Wolski said. “Motion penalties and things like that, that all of a sudden it’s first-and-15 and it’s tough to overcome that.”
Leading 21-17 at halftime, the Bulldogs went for the kill with an onsides kick to start the third quarter.
They recovered and marched down the field for a touchdown that could have seized control for good if not for a spirited State College rally.
“All of a sudden you could kind of fold your tent and walk away and it would be over,” Wolski said. “I was looking to see the look in our guy’s faces, and we came back and didn’t let that demoralize us.”
The Lions’ drive was capped by Paffie-Misher’s six-yard run, which made it 28-23 after the two-point conversion failed.
Big defensive plays by Roeshot and Zach Damiano put the back into the hands of Paffie-Misher.
The senior do-it-all threat hauled in a 16-yard pass from Irwin that gave his team a 29-28 advantage with 5:26 remaining. Irwin appeared to have an opening on the conversion attempt, but the Bulldogs stuffed him at the 1.
Watkins took care of the rest.
Wolski was pleased with his defensive effort against what he said will likely be the two best backs they would see all season.
“When you have to backs that can score any time they touch the ball you know you’re on thin ice,” he said. “Our guys made some plays, and again, you’re not going to contain those two guys.”
Next up for State College is a Saturday trip to Harrisburg.
“Just get ready for league play now,” Wolski said. “We showed we are a pretty good football team and have some guts so let’s get ready for the next game.”