When State College and DuBois meet tonight at Altoona’s Mansion Park for the District 6-9 Class AAAA championship, State College will face one of its toughest and most balanced offensive opponents all season.
The top-ranked Beavers average slightly more than 48 points per contest, decimating defenses from the ground and in the air.
“They’re hard-nosed kids and they score a lot of points,” State College coach Al Wolski said. “We haven’t seen anybody score that much of all the teams we've played, so we have to stop them and keep the ball out of their hands a little bit.”
On the season, the Beavers have scored 50 or more points three times (50, 52, 58), led by a talented triumvirate at key skill positions.
Gabe French, the Beavers’ sophomore quarterback, has thrown for more than 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. Garrett Brown, a senior running back, averages nearly 10 yards per carry and has amassed more than 1,600 yards and 23 touchdowns. And Bryson Paulinellie, a sophomore wide receiver, averages more than 15 yards per catch and has nine touchdown receptions.
The State College defense — and its offense — will have to slow down the Beavers.
“Putting pressure on their passer and being able to play good, disciplined defense is a key,” Wolski said. “And not getting trapped — they run a lot of traps — so we need to be in position to blow up the trapper rather than getting trapped. (Brown) has some good quickness and can change directions quickly so we need to contain him.”
Against the pass, the Little Lions have their own talented trio. Dan Fry leads the team with six interceptions, Darian Herncane is second with five and Ebrahim Britton has three.
State College’s three ball-hawking, senior defensive backs have disrupted passing games all season and can quickly steal a game’s momentum by turning an interception into a touchdown.
“They’re going to have to play the kind of game they've been playing all year long,” Wolski said. “We thought going into the year that they would be a strength of ours, and they have been. They've forced multiple turnovers in several games and they've also defended the run really well.”
In State College’s 20-13 win over Mifflin County, Herncane intercepted a pass and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown. He also leads the team with four blocked field goals, including one last week in the Little Lions’ 42-25 win over Central Mountain.
“We’re getting good, physical play out of Darian Herncane, who’s now coming up and doing an excellent job as a run defender, not just a pass defender,” Wolski said. “And that’s something we felt we needed from him if we were going to be a good defense, and he’s answered that challenge.”
But the Little Lions’ offense could also supplement their defense by sustaining long drives.
In the Little Lions’ 28-17 win over DuBois last season, State College rushed the ball 49 times for 332 yards, effectively limiting the Beavers’ offensive possessions.
So far this season, State College has rushed 40 or more times in five different games (four victories). They also employ a balanced attack with four players who have more than 300 rushing yards.
In addition to keeping opponents off balance, Wolski said spreading the carries also keeps his players fresh.
“We feel like we have a lot of people who can carry the ball,” Wolski said. “A lot of them are two-way players so we try to give them a break on one side of the ball and it’s usually on offense because we do have some depth there.”
Seniors Ryan Goeke and Andrew Kelly lead the team with 537 and 473 rushing yards, respectively. Goeke also plays linebacker and Kelly is a defensive back. Britton is third with 354 rushing yards and Patrick Irwin, a junior quarterback, is fourth with 303.
It’s an offensive strategy the Little Lions used last season when, according to Wolski, they beat a similar DuBois team.
“It’s gonna be a good game, it was a good game last year,” Wolski said. “And we look for the same type of thing this year down at Mansion Park. They’re a very similar team to what they had last year. They’re not going to lie down, they’re big and they’re strong and they hit you.”