In the past year, State College Matt Lintal watched as Keaton Ellis came close to a handful of touchdowns, only to be stopped short of the end zone.
Lintal estimates it happened two or three times in 2016 and once this season before Ellis finally enjoyed a breakout, three-touchdown effort to lead the Little Lions to a 56-7 win over Mifflin County on Friday night.
Ellis, who committed to Penn State last Saturday, hauled in a pair of touchdown passes for State College’s first two scores, then blocked and recovered a punt for the final score of a dominant first half.
“We’ve been teasing Keaton because he kept getting tackled inside the 5,” Lintal said. “It was nice tonight for him to finish those off and get some much-deserved points.”
Ellis stole the show for the Little Lions (3-0) in their third game of the season after limited touches in the team’s first two games. His early touchdown catches — the first two touchdown receptions of his varsity career — kick-started another dominant performance in which the Little Lions led 49-0 by halftime. In between Ellis’ second touchdown and his punt block and recovery for his third, running back Isaiah Edwards punched in a rushing touchdown, Patrick Groves returned an interception for a touchdown and quarterback Brady Dorner scored two touchdowns on his only two carries of the night.
But Ellis set the tone by finally reaching the end zone as a wide receiver in his first game since committing to the Nittany Lions. Ellis said the recruiting process weighed on him — he was receiving about 4-5 direct messages per day from coaches at different schools — and felt relieved after making his decision. It allowed him to shift his focus to this season with the Little Lions.
“I wasn’t worried about anything, about responding to coaches or anything like that,” Ellis said.
Ellis, a junior, was all smiles after Friday night’s win.
He capped the team’s first drive with a 59-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Tommy Friberg — sprinting away from the Mifflin County secondary for the easy score. It broke Ellis’ streak of bad luck as his lone touchdown a year ago came on a punt return against Mechanicsburg. The touchdown catch also boosted his confidence after managing just one catch for 15 yards in the first two weeks of this season.
On State College’s next offensive play, Ellis grabbed his second touchdown on a 22-yard pass from running back Tristen Lyons, who received a pitch in the backfield before finding his teammate open in the end zone.
“We go over it in practice, really confuse teams,” Ellis said. “He was really excited. Coming out of the huddle, he’s like, ‘I got you, I’m going to get you the ball.’”
Ellis wasn’t the only Little Lion to make a memorable play as Groves returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to give State College a 27-0 lead.
“This is my first year of varsity starting and first varsity touchdown,” Groves said, “so it was a crazy feeling running into that end zone, especially at an away stadium, seeing all the not-too-happy Miff. Co. student section.”
After Mifflin County’s ensuing drive, Ellis returned a punt 37 yards to set up a short three-play, 13-yard drive capped by Dorner’s first touchdown run.
And after Dorner broke free for a 60-yard touchdown run, Ellis blocked a punt and fell on the loose ball in the end zone for State College’s seventh and final touchdown of the first half.
“We’re super-excited about him, super-excited about the intensity that our kids played with,” Lintal said. “It didn’t matter — first team, second team, JV, ninth grade, 10th grade kids — whoever was in there, they were giving the best effort.”