Perhaps the most impressive thing about the State College High School football team this season has been its ability to secure the football.
With just six starters returning from last season’s District 6 Class AAAA title team, the Little Lions (2-2) have just two turnovers this year. They also have intercepted five passes and recovered four fumbles.
This week, State College hosts Central Dauphin (2-2) for Homecoming at 7 p.m. Friday at Memorial Field.
Unlike the Little Lions, the Rams have thrown four interceptions and lost five fumbles, which could be key in a familiar Mid-Penn Conference Commonwealth Division matchup.
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“Like everybody we preach it,” State College head coach Al Wolski said of protecting and taking the football. “Sometimes the ball just gets knocked out (and) some routes you run are more prone to throwing interceptions. We try to limit those.”
Defensively, Wolski credits his coordinators with early-season drill work on stripping the ball and anticipating interceptions.
Last week, State College began conference play with a decisive 29-7 victory over an injury-depleted Harrisburg squad.
Jordan Misher and Patrick Irwin led the offense on the ground, but Anthony Paffie-Misher’s leaping, one-handed interception in the end zone kept the State College lead at 15-7 just before the half.
“The thing about it was I think the kid was four or five inches taller than Anthony,” Wolski said. “We preach to our guys playing man … you continue to play the ball and when he looks you look, and he just did an excellent job of that.”
Harrisburg’s De’Quan Ware, a 6-foot-2 senior, was the intended receiver in one-on-one coverage against the 5-foot-10 Paffie-Misher.
Central Dauphin’s offensive style will contrast somewhat with the Cougars’ attack however, and actually somewhat mirror State College.
The Dragons will dictate tempo with an attack run mostly out of the shotgun, which allows for play changes at the line and can prevent opponents from making substitutions.
Senior running back Malachi Holmes is the Rams’ leading rusher with 270 yards and three touchdowns.
State College quarterback Patrick Irwin is in his second season in a similar system. This season began with question marks offensively, but the emergence of sophomore Jordan Misher and senior Anthony Paffie-Misher gives the Little Lions big-play threats.
Possession receivers like John Weakland and Jake Knouse afford State College multiple assets.
“I think there’s enough disbursement of the football that no one can key on any one player,” Wolski said.
A win and State College climbs above .500 for the first time this season and could catapult the Little Lions toward another District 6 crown.
“Another big game against a very good team for homecoming,” Wolski said, “and hopefully we’ll be ready.”
Central Dauphin (2-2) at State College (2-2)
Time: 7 p.m.
Coaches: SC – Al Wolski, 10th season; CD – Glen McNamee
Last meeting: Central Dauphin 32-7, last season
Key players: SC—Patrick Irwin, QB, Jordan Misher, RB; CD – Nate Dickey, QB