STATE COLLEGE — The pocket collapsed around Patrick Irwin and suddenly, the State College quarterback was facing contact from nearly every angle.
Irwin got hit as he released the football and it hung in the air for a split second before Central Dauphin’s Elijah Robinson plucked it out of the sky.
By the time Irwin got out from under the pile, the big Central Dauphin defensive lineman had gone 34 yards the other way for a backbreaking touchdown in the Rams’ 34-0 win at Memorial Field on Friday.
“Sometimes the ball goes where it has to for you to have success and that’s what happened for them,” State College coach Al Wolski said.
And on Homecoming, that rarely happened for the Little Lions (2-3).
Two chances to snag interceptions early slipped through their hands. A missed field goal early that would’ve tied the score failed to produce any momentum. Three drives stalled quickly after the Little Lions were pinned inside their own five-yard-line.
And there were the turnovers, none more costly than the one Robinson turned into six points early in the second quarter that gave the Rams a 10-0 lead they would never give up.
“He’s a very good athlete who happens to play defensive line and I think he made that show on that play,” Central Dauphin coach Glen McNamee said.
The Rams didn’t need pure athleticism to push their lead to 17-0 just over three minutes later. Instead, they relied on a bit of trickery.
After a botched reverse attempt forced the Little Lions to start with the ball at their own five-yard-line, the State College offense ran six plays and gained 30 yards before having to punt it away. The Central Dauphin offense took over and on second down quarterback Nate Dickey fired a lateral out to wide receiver Jake Notenstine who flung the ball deep to Manny Gonzalez who was uncovered for a 66-yard score.
“That was something we just kind of put in for tonight,” McNamee said. “The kids did a real nice job executing the entire game plan. I give them a lot of credit.”
Central Dauphin was nearly flawless on a night it won its fifth-straight game against State College.
The Rams (3-2) escaped their first drive unscathed when a pass from Dickey got away from him and nearly wound up in the hands of State College defensive back Chris Seighman. But the ball slipped through Seighman’s grasp and the Rams picked up a first down with a 14-yard run from Malachi Holmes on third down. Holmes’ run extended a drive that ended when Jacob Kerschner split the uprights from 35 yards out to give Central Dauphin a 3-0 lead.
Dickey eluded disaster again when Seighman had another potential interception bounce off his hands. Kerschner made the Little Lions pay again, this time with a 42-yard kick that pushed the Rams’ lead to 20-0 at halftime.
The Little Lions got the ball back with just over two minutes to play but were forced to start at their own four-yard-line when Anthony Paffie-Misher reeled in the kickoff but stumbled out of bounds before he could start upfield. State College ran five plays and the drive ended when Lanthus Whiteside and Robinson combined to bring Irwin down for a sack that halted any scoring hope.
“They played at another speed. Everybody’s got their maximum speed and they were playing at their maximum speed and we were playing at something less than our maximum speed,” Wolski said. “We had a chance to make some plays, interceptions, things like that that could’ve got us some momentum and we just didn’t make it.”
Central Dauphin ran nearly six minutes off the clock with a 12-play drive to begin the third. But Dickey was called for intentional grounding on third down that pushed the Rams out of field goal range and forced just their second of two punts on the night.
State College couldn’t take advantage, however and its next two drives yielded a fumble and a turnover on downs. In between, the Rams mounted a six-play scoring drive capped by a one-yard run from Holmes. Raleigh Sirb added a nine-yard run in the fourth quarter to cap the scoring.