Matt Lintal admits State College would have loved to emerge from a challenging start to the season with a winning record.
But the coach also said the Little Lions are healthy and ready for Mid Penn Conference action after gaining valuable experience. State College was tested in the first three weeks, falling to perennial PIAA Class AAA power Bishop McDevitt and Martinsburg, the four-time defending West Virginia Class AAA champions.
The Little Lions (1-2) will open Mid Penn play against Carlisle (2-1) at Memorial Field on Friday at 7 p.m.
“We’re treating it like a new season,” Lintal said. “We had our preseason football camp. We had our preseason three nonconference games and now we have a new season. We’re actually going to break out the stripes on the helmets here tonight and have a new look for the new season.”
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State College is expecting a challenge one year after rolling to a 34-0 win over the Thundering Herd. Carlisle, which went 1-9 last season, is off to a strong start behind a dynamic passing attack.
Carlisle senior quarterback Billy Burger has already surpassed his total of four touchdown passes in 10 games in 2013.
Burger has completed 58 percent of his passes while throwing for five touchdowns and one interception. The senior, who has thrown for 268.7 yards per game, has attempted at least 20 passes in every game.
Carlisle senior Deonte Ramsey is Burger’s top target with 22 catches for 462 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow senior Glenn Jackson is second on the team with 13 receptions for 215 yards.
“These guys really will spread you out,” Lintal said. “They have a number of good athletes in their offensive skill positions that they spread the field as wide as they can go and they try to get it out to them in a hurry and let them make some plays with their legs.”
Lintal said it will be crucial to pressure Burger and eliminate Carlisle’s big-play opportunities.
State College’s defensive line has been led by Barrett McMurtry and Lonnie Koudela. Lintal said the coaching staff selected McMurtry as its defensive player of the game last week against Martinsburg.
Lintal also said linebacker Stan Martin has arguably been State College’s most consistent player on defense, while Jon Seighman has provided a physical presence at safety.
Jordan Misher, the team’s leading rusher, has seen time at cornerback in critical situations in the first three weeks.
“He’s one of our best athletes and when the game’s on the line we want to have him on the field on either side of the football,” Lintal said.
But the coach said he’s focused on keeping his players fresh this season — a strategy he hopes pays off Friday night.
“We only have a couple of our kids that are really playing both sides of the football all night long,” Lintal said. “That’ll be a difference for Carlisle this week. A lot of their athletes are going to be on the field the entire game on both sides of the football. So we look to use that to our advantage and try to wear them down.”
The Little Lions rely on Misher to power the rushing attack.
Misher is averaging 144.3 yards on the ground. He has rushed for four touchdowns.
Last week, Misher ran for 73 yards on 21 carries against a Martinsburg defense that had limited its first two opponents to 20 total yards rushing.
And State College quarterback John Weakland got back on track after a disappointing game against Bishop McDevitt in Week 2.
Weakland went 6 of 12 for 49 yards and two interceptions in a 34-14 loss to the Crusaders. Against Martinsburg, he completed 15 of 24 passes for 209 yards and threw for two touchdowns and one interception.
“He’s a kid I trust with the football,” Lintal said. “The game’s on the line and I want him to be out there calling the shots.”
Besides Misher, Kellin Valentine and Drew Flanagan have proven to be playmakers in the Little Lions’ offense.
Valentine has eight catches for 93 yards. Flanagan leads the team with 10 catches, including seven grabs for 55 yards against Martinsburg last week.
Lintal said despite costly turnovers against Martinsburg, his players never panicked. They stayed positive and believed they could come back.
And now, the Little Lions are looking forward to a fresh start with conference play.
“I think we’ve learned a lot,” Lintal said. “We’ve improved from week to week to week, and our kids are now ready for this challenge.”