If you were to walk into a State College football practice, you’ll be greeted with music blaring through field-side speakers.
Coach Matt Lintal says they’ve done it all season long.
“We try to make football fun,” Lintal said. “We’re going to have music playing when we can. We don’t want the guys to be tight. We want them to understand that this is still a game. At the end of the day, win, loss or draw they are going to take away life lessons.”
And as the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
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The Little Lions (9-0) go into Friday night’s game against Central Dauphin (8-1) with two things at stake.
With a win, it will mark the first time since 2008 that State College finished the regular season undefeated. That season, the Little Lions fell in the Class AAAA quarterfinals to Bethel Park, who was the state runner up.
Coming into this week’s game, State College had already locked up the right to be named back-to-back Mid Penn Commonwealth Conference champions. However, with a win, the Little Lions would be able to hold the title by itself. A loss would mean they share the title with the Rams. If Cumberland Valley beats Harrisburg, it would mean that the same three teams that shared the title last season would share it again.
“Going 1-0 this week. That’s been the theme since week one and it will continue to be the theme,” Lintal said of his team’s focus. “These kids have worked tremendously hard. They’ve created a routine that has proven to work. We’re focusing on what we can control and dominate the controlables and play with a positive attitude and tremendous effort.”
State College will have its hands full with Central Dauphin both offensively and defensively.
The Rams come into the game averaging 204 yards per game rushing. They are led by junior Mike Wise and senior Dylan Weaver. Wise has 595 yards rushing and nine touchdowns to go with Weaver’s 392 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, Central Dauphin is averaging three sacks a game. It also has 56 tackles for loss, 13 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries.
“Their running backs are physical and tough to bring down.,” Lintal said of his counterparts. “Defensively, they are multiple. They try to bring guys from different spots and try to create confusion up front. We got to stay on track with moving the chains. Because when they can pin their ears back and come up the field, they do a nice job with that.”
Lintal’s squad is just as strong in those phases of the game. However, it is very balanced on offense. The Little Lions average 184.9 yards per game on the ground and 169 per game through the air.
When it comes to airing it out, Tyler Snyder is just shy of 1,400 yards and has 15 touchdowns to six interceptions. His favorite target has been Noah Woods, who leads the team with 705 yards receiving on 27 receptions and seven touchdowns.
On the ground, State College has a thunder and lightning combination in Tristen Lyons and Pete Haffner. Lyons is the shifty and quick option of the two, with Haffner being the big, bruiser back. Lyons has 492 yards on 88 carries and five touchdowns. Haffner, who will be playing his final game at Memorial Field, has 459 yards on 93 carries and 13 touchdowns.
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed up going out undefeated, leading the team to a conference championship and doing pretty well in the playoffs,” Haffner said.
Haffner has also been a force on defense too. His 49 tackles rank second — tied with Paul Olivett — and he has five sacks. Joshua Ruffner’s 52 tackles and Peyton Edwards’ 10 sacks lead the way.
The Little Lions’ defense averages four sacks a game and has seven interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries on the year.
Buit, Haffner and Lintal both know its not about stats. They had one word that came to mind when they described the success this season.
It is that one word that Lintal believes will lead to a win for State College.
“It’s going to take a great effort,” he said. “It’s going to take 11 guys that are out there at that time working as one. We’re focusing on what we can control and dominate the controlables and play with a positive attitude and tremendous effort. If we play State College football, the rest of its going to take care of itself.”