On the first play of the game Friday night, the pocket collapsed on Carlisle quarterback Billy Burger.
The State College defensive line pursued Burger, who took off to his left but couldn’t escape Little Lions linebacker Stan Martin. Martin pulled Burger down for a sack and a 6-yard loss.
The State College defense pressured and frustrated Burger throughout the first half en route to building a comfortable lead at the break. Behind the strong start, the Little Lions beat Carlisle 37-8 at Memorial Field in their Mid Penn Conference opener.
“Our D-line is really solid, really proud of those kids for the effort they show,” State College coach Matt Lintal said. “Also, it says a lot about our secondary to be able to cover long enough to get to them because in a lot of the films we watched, he was getting rid of the ball in a hurry to wide open receivers and our guys didn’t give him any easy throws.”
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Little Lions quarterback John Weakland was efficient, completing 10 of 13 passes and a touchdown and rushing for 61 yards and a score on five carries. Running back Jordan Misher ran for 131 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
State College tight end Brett Graham hauled in five passes for 52 yards and a touchdown.
“Johnny threw some really nice passes to me,” Graham said. “I’m just glad I have a great quarterback to throw me good passes.”
Carlisle (2-2), meanwhile, struggled to get its passing game going.
Burger came into the game averaging 268.7 per yards through the air. But State College corralled the Thundering Herd’s playmakers and limited Carlisle to 93 yards passing. The Thundering Herd never established a rushing attack, finishing with 19 yards on 21 carries.
Carlisle went three-and-out on its first drive. State College (2-2) answered with a nine-play, 51-yard drive capped by a 6-yard touchdown run by Misher.
The Thundering Herd saw its second drive crumble when Burger was sacked for the second time of the night on third down. Carlisle went for it on fourth-and-6 and came up short.
State College then pinned Carlisle at the 1-yard line after a 51-yard punt by Graham.
“I felt it clean off my foot,” Graham said, “and I saw the ball and I’m glad Drew Flanagan got the ball at the 1-yard line and made a good stop.”
Thanks to Flanagan’s hustle play, Carlisle was forced to start its third drive in the end zone.
After an incomplete pass, Martin broke free to tackle Thundering Herd running back Tyler Greene for a safety, giving State College a 9-0 lead on the final player of the quarter.
State College defensive linemen Lonnie Koudela and Barrett McMurtry generated pressure throughout the first half and got to Burger for the third sack. Sheldon Davis recorded the fourth sack despite being held during the entire play.
Carlisle managed just three first downs in the first half. The Thundering Herd had negative-one rushing yard at the break.
“Controlling those skill players for Carlisle is not an easy task and our guys did a nice job playing team defense and really handling whatever they through at ‘em,” Lintal said.
State College built separation from Carlisle on a 23-yard touchdown run by Weakland with 7:01 left in the second quarter.
Weakland started to his left with Misher behind, ready for a pitch. Carlisle linebacker James Steele committed to going after Misher, and Weakland burst upfield for the score.
The touchdown run was set up by a big third-down conversion four plays earlier. Weakland found Graham for a 20-yard gain on third-and-17.
“We knew that everybody had their eyes on Jordan thinking that he would take a screen pass,” Lintal said. “So they kind of bit on that and Brett made a nice play, had a really nice run after catch and we had guys blocking downfield doing a nice job for him.”
Graham grabbed a 4-yard touchdown pass later in the half to give State College a 23-0 lead.
Carlisle got on the board on its first drive of the second half, taking advantage of a fumble by Weakland. Carlisle wide receiver Deonte Ramsey, who finished with eight catches, grabbed an 11-yard touchdown pass.
The Thundering Herd trailed 23-8 after the two-point conversion.
But State College put the game away with its running game.
Misher carried the ball on seven plays in a nine-play drive that spilled into the fourth quarter. He finished it with an impressive 26-yard touchdown.
Misher started to his right with Carlisle defenders closing in, stopped in a split second and turned upfield and into the end zone.
“I didn’t really see any holes,” Misher said. “So I had to just reverse and I busted out and just used my speed to get the touchdown.”
Misher was back on the field for three more carries to burn the clock under six minutes before heading off the field.
“There’s such a trust level with Jordan out there running the football,” Lintal said. “Even when I don’t make the best play call, he sometimes makes me look like a great coach, so he can make guys miss and he does an awesome job.”