STATE COLLEGE — Resting in the District 6 portion of the rugged Mid-Penn Conference, State College and Mifflin County figured to be natural rivals.
Their first football meeting amplified this thinking.
The Little Lions used six turnovers, including four interceptions, to edge the physical Hukies 20-13 on Friday at Memorial Field.
The victory extended State College’s winning streak to four games entering next week’s regular-season finale against Cumberland Valley.
Nothing about Friday’s victory proved easy. The Huskies outgained the Little Lions 380-266, and State College didn’t register its initial second-half first down until midway through the fourth quarter.
“It didn’t look good the way things were going against a good team.” State College coach Al Wolski said.
State College (7-2. 4-2 Mid-Penn) leaned on its most experienced – and athletic – players to win the first football game between Quad-A schools separated by 30 miles. Senior defensive backs Darian Hercane and Ebrahim Britton each intercepted two passes as the Little Lions scored all 20 points off first-half turnovers.
“It’s a great, new rivalry between us that will go on forever,” Herncane said. “We’re glad to get the first one.”
Herncane, a two-year starter at safety with either a promising football or baseball future, produced the game’s biggest play, intercepting a pass at the Little Lion 4-yard line in the second quarter. Herncane immediately headed toward the right sideline. Britton cleared Herncane’s way to the end zone with a cunning upfield block.
The 96-yard return marked the longest touchdown of Herncane’s career. Herncane and Britton, who played in Texas last season, demonstrated their rapport during the play. Britton sprinted ahead and introduced the path-of-least-resistance to Herncane.
“I saw ‘D’ pick it and I waved him on and said, ‘Let’s take it to the end zone,’” Britton said. “He started running and we were running together and I saw a tackler coming up. I blocked him, so D could get that touchdown.”
Herncane also thwarted Mifflin County’s final rally, making a leaping interception with less than two minutes remaining. The Huskies were facing a second-and-11 from the Little Lion 24 on the play.
The Huskies (4-5, 2-4) started the drive on their own 27 with 3:45 remaining. Kyle Kahley, who gained 119 yards on 21 carries, powered his way to the Little Lion 22 with runs of 18 and 15 yards. State College dragged Kahley down for a 2-yard loss before Herncane moved in front of Shane Whaley’s pass to John Michael Maclay.
Behind a large offensive line, Mifflin County rushed for 206 yards on 45 carries. Whalen, who completed 10 of 22 passes for 174 yards, trimmed State College’s lead to seven points by a throwing a 16-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Jerzerick with 11:30 left. Jerzerick had five catches for 92 yards.
“We were moving the football and shooting ourselves in the foot,” Mifflin County coach George Miskinis said. “We did everything we had to do to be in the football game and we did everything we had to do to win the football game. Let’s not pull any punches. We were in there for all 15 rounds tonight. We stood toe-to-toe with one of the better teams.”
State College opened a 20-6 halftime lead when quarterback Patrick Irwin slid between two defenders for a 13-yard touchdown run on the final play of the first half. Dan Fry’s 37-yard run on a fake punt setup the touchdown.
Senior Andrew Kelly led State College with 101 yards on nine carries. Irwin completed 9 of 17 passes for 65 yards.
The loss puts the Huskies in a must-in position next week at Chambersburg. The Mifflin County School District requires teams to post .500 or above records to participate in postseason play. If the Huskies defeat the Trojans, they will likely begin the district playoffs against State College.
“It would be interesting to come back and play that team a second time,” Wolski said.