Pete Haffner brings a physicality rarely seen at the running back position.
Opposing defensive players look to go low to bring down State College’s 6-foot, 220-pound standout while avoiding the force of each collision.
Haffner, who also plays linebacker, wears teams down with his style of play and the help of his offensive line.
“I’m a big back and they just don’t want to tackle me by the end of the game,” Haffner said after leading the Little Lions to a 35-28 win over Harrisburg at Memorial Field on Friday night.
I’m a big back and they just don’t want to tackle me by the end of the game.
Haffner rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns on 35 carries as the Little Lions improved their record to 8-0. State College established the running game early and stuck with it in a Mid Penn Commonwealth game that featured contrasting styles. While the Little Lions rushed for 238 yards, Harrisburg often put five wide receivers on the field for quarterback Yahmir Wilkerson, who completed 18 of 25 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
State College did enough to beat the Cougars, thanks to a one-yard touchdown run by Haffner with 1:38 left.
“I’m really proud of this group,” State College coach Matt Lintal said. “That’s a great Harrisburg football team that’s got a chance to go win the state in (PIAA Class) 5A. We’ll be cheering for ‘em, have a lot of respect for them.”
With Penn State coach James Franklin in attendance, Harrisburg defensive end and Nittany Lions commit Damion Barber provided pressure in the backfield throughout the first half. Harrisburg wide receiver Shaquon Anderson-Butts — who has an offer from Penn State, according to 247Sports — had six catches for 105 yards and the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.
But the Little Lions capitalized on a mistake by Wilkerson to score the game-winning touchdown.
After the Harrisburg quarterback ran for a one-yard score and connected on an 11-yard touchdown pass to erase a 28-14 deficit, he dropped back with a chance to lead his team on a go-ahead scoring drive with 4:44 left.
But State College’s Paul Olivett picked off the pass.
“That was such a momentum shift in the game,” Lintal said.
The Little Lions sideline erupted, and Haffner went to work.
After two carries, Haffner took a handoff on third-and-eight and exploded up the middle. He raced toward the end zone, running past one attempt to bring him down without breaking stride before Justin Carter pulled him down at the 4-yard line.
He picked up three yards on first-and-goal and was stopped short on second-and-goal.
On third-and-goal, Haffner lined up in the Wildcat formation.
“We call it the Bear package,” Haffner said. “Get the big boys in there and just go after it. It’s my favorite package.”
The Little Lions went to the “Bear” package to convert on fourth down on their opening drive of the third quarter.
On the next play, State College quarterback Tyler Snyder found Brandon Clark for a 15-yard touchdown to tie the game 14-14.
State College continued to feed Haffner to add to the lead.
The Little Lions ran their “Stallion” package often, lining up 6-foot-3, 230-pound tight end Erik Swanson and 6-foot-7, 208-pound backup quarterback Drew Friberg side-by-side as blockers and giving it to Haffner.
The Cougars couldn’t slow him down as he scored State College’s next two touchdowns to make it 28-14.
Haffner then found the end zone off of a direct snap for the game-winning touchdown with 1:38 left out of his favorite package.
“Well I’ve always wanted to play quarterback, but they’ve always put me at linebacker,” Haffner said. “So if I get a chance to play some QB I always welcome it.”
He made his mark at linebacker on Harrisburg’s final drive, sacking Wilkerson on second-and-10 from the 16-yard line for a five-yard loss. Wilkerson connected on third down, but Harrisburg allowed the clock to run down to 1 second before spiking the ball on fourth down to end it.
And Haffner and the Little Lions left Memorial Field with a hard-fought win.
“He’s a warrior,” Lintal said. “He is one of the toughest football players I’ve ever been around, smartest football players I’ve ever been around, and I love having him on our side.”
The week’s heavy rains postponed games from Friday to Monday:
▪ Chestnut Ridge at Bellefonte, 5:30 p.m.
▪ Bald Eagle Area at Jersey Shore, 6 p.m.