Al Wolski is pretty blunt when it comes to football analysis.
And when asked about what his State College team has to do in its District 6-9 opener against Mifflin County at 7 p.m. Friday at Memorial Field, Wolski needed just two words.
Those words aren’t said lightly. It was just two weeks ago that the Little Lions (5-5) and the Huskies (4-6) met at Mitchell Field.
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Wolski’s club led for most of that game until Mifflin County got its ground game in gear and erased a 13-point deficit, taking a 21-20 lead with less than two minutes remaining.
Only a big kickoff return from Derek Van Horn and Patrick Irwin’s two-yard touchdown run in the finals seconds to cap a 49-yard drive allowed State College to escape with a 26-21 win.
“They put together a couple of nice drives and just ran it down our throats,” Wolski said of the Huskies. “We’ve got to be able to answer that. Hopefully, we can.”
Mifflin County rushed for216 yards in that contest and became one of many teams that have surpassed the 200-yard rushing mark against the Little Lions this season. Cumberland Valley’s Tyler Updegraff notched 205 on the ground in 39-26 win over the Little Lions’ in last week’s season finale.
“It’s from being out of position and missed tackles,” Wolski explained. “We work all week and the defensive coaches do a great job getting them in the right position. Whether they’re going to read their keys and do what they have to do, that is going to determine how well we do.”
While several individual backs had big days against the Little Lions, the Huskies spread the wealth.
Heath Hidlay led five ball carriers with at least 20 yards by rushing for 65 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. Bruising fullback Kyle Kahley added 60 yards on 14 carries.
Hidlay leads the Huskies, who have dropped their last six games, with 910 yards and 13 rushing scores. Kahley has notched 405 yards and five touchdowns.
Quarterback Hunter Walker had his best passing day of the season against the Little Lions, throwing for 144 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown toss to Curtis Jerzerick.
“They were everything we expected,” Wolski said. “We felt they were big, strong and come after you and that’s exactly what we got. They were team that was very physical. Their kids hit hard, as hard as anybody we’ve played all year.”
Wolski’s club features a more balanced and prolific offensive attack. The Little Lions have rushed for 2,074 yards (averaging 5.6 yards per carry) and Irwin has passed for 1,333.
Irwin leads the rushing attack with 805 yards and 12 scores. Jordan Misher has 697 and eight TDs. Jake Knouse has 221 yards, but is averaging almost nine yards per carry.
Irwin has completed 114 of 193 passes with eight touchdowns and six interceptions. John Weakland (29 catches), Misher (27) and Knouse (20) are his favorite targets.
“Against us, you have to be able to defend the run and you have to be able to defend the pass,” Wolski said. “Patrick has done a great job of that and our receivers have really stepped up and done a nice job of catching the football.”
It’s a unit that can make late drives, like it did against Mifflin County the first time.
“We had confidence that we could do it,” Wolski said. “We’ve done it before. The odds were against us, but it was a great drive and the kids came up with some big plays. We feel we have some playmakers.”
One are of concern for the Little Lions is the kicking game. Placekicker Kevin Cramer, who booted a game-winning field goal in the final seconds against Chambersburg, has missed the past two games with an injury. State College missed two extra points in the first game with Mifflin County.
“We’ve had the luxury the last nine years of having some of the best kickers in the state,” Wolski said. “Now, one kicker is hurt. Now, we’re looking for ways to get some guys to step up. That’s what high school football is, especially when you enter the playoffs. Can somebody step up when you need them to?”
Irwin has taken over at punter.
“He’s done well at that and he’s also a threat to run or throw the ball,” Wolski said. “We feel that’s a nice thing, also.”
Wolski said his team should be prepared for Friday, having faced Mifflin County two weeks ago and having faced a similar attack from Cumberland Valley.
“It’s a matter of can we contain them and can we get up early,” he said. “They’re a good team that doesn’t quit. They keep coming at you. Everything we expected it to be in the last game, it was.”