STATE COLLEGE — Through all of the football games he’s played, all the wide receivers he’s shadowed, State College linebacker Ryan Goeke had never snagged an interception in his career.
On Friday night, the senior picked off two of Central Mountain quarterback Von Walker's passes.
The Little Lions turned both of Goeke’s interceptions into scores to cap a District 6/9 Class AAAA playoff game that started wildly, continued sloppily but eventually turned into a 42-25 rout at Memorial Field.
“I guess we found our click. Everybody was firing on all cylinders,” Goeke said after State College traded turnovers with Central Mountain in the first quarter. “We came out at halftime and we knew we had to perform to bring out the win and that’s what we did.”
The Little Lions (8-3) advance to play DuBois (8-1) next week.
In the beginning, a repeat of State College’s Week 2 domination of Central Mountain seemed unlikely.
The Wildcats came out swinging as running back Blaze Buckwalter took the direct snap, tossed it to Walker who then threw deep to Cole Renninger who had more than a few steps on Little Lion cornerback Dan Fry. But the speedy Fry recovered, turned his hips and chased Renninger down. At the 10-yard-line, Fry uppercutted the ball out of Renninger’s grasp where it bounced into the end zone for a State College touchback.
“Defensive backs are supposed to come and try to strip the ball, especially if they get beat,” State College coach Al Wolski said. “We practice not getting beat first, but he did. He bit on the toss and they ran toss-pass and he was out there and you saw what happened.”
The Little Lions threw away their first drive when quarterback Patrick Irwin was intercepted at midfield. The Wildcats would drive into field goal range but defensive back Darian Herncane flew around the defense and blocked the 48-yard try.
State College turned the ball over again when Irwin passed to Jake Knouse deep in Wildcat territory on the ensuing drive. Knouse took a hard hit, fumbled the ball and Central Mountain recovered. Knouse would not return to the game.
The teams traded punts before the Little Lions snapped out of their funk.
“We were all upset. We all had our heads down but we picked them back up,” Irwin said. “Starting off on those first couple of drives wasn’t too great but we definitely picked it up. We did what we do best and we moved the ball down the field and we scored.”
Goeke capped a six-play drive with a hard-nosed 24-yard touchdown run that saw him bounce off a Central Mountain defensive back and spin into the end zone for the game’s first score.
“The line did an excellent job of trapping the guy and our slot did a great job filling for me,” Goeke said. “Then I was just looking to not fumble the ball and get into the end zone.”
Central Mountain responded with an eight-play drive that ended with Buckwalter plunging into the end zone from one yard out.
But State College didn’t let up. The Little Lions marched 49 yards, most of it on a 25-pass play from Irwin to Fry, and took a 14-7 lead when Andrew Kelly ran through Renninger’s tackle for a 14-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes to play.
Goeke picked off Walker’s ensuing first-down pass and Irwin went to work in the Little Lions’ hurry-up offense. With 16 seconds to play in the half, he hit Herncane on an eight-yard slant rout to give his team a 21-7 lead.
The Wildcats opened the second half with more trickery, but Kelly quickly staunched any momentum they hoped to build with an onside kick. Kelly recovered the attempt and two plays later Ebrahim Britton was off on a 57-yard scoring run that gave State College a 28-7 lead.
Goeke picked Walker off again three plays later and then finished off a short-field drive with a 10-yard run that triggered the running-clock mercy rule. Kelly added a 33-yard touchdown reception on a perfectly thrown ball from Irwin to cap State College’s scoring.
Central Mountain kept battling.
The Wildcats got scores from Buckwalter on a 17-yard run, Walker on a 15-yard scamper and Renninger made a highlight reel catch on a 16-yard pass that Walker threw off his back foot with 3:44 to play.
The Little Lions held Walker to just 79 yards on 12 carries with 55 of those coming in the first half. State College will spend this week trying to remedy its flaws as they prepare for a vaunted DuBois team that features a quarterback in Gabe French who has passed for 1,535 yards and 17 touchdowns and a tailback in Garrett Brown that has rushed for 1,654 yards and 23 scores.
“We’ve got to practice harder,” Irwin said. “We’ve got to step it up in practice. DuBois is a great team.”