State College’s last win over Central Dauphin came in 2008.
That season also marked the Little Lions’ last outright Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth Division title.
In 2009, the Rams and Little Lions shared the division title. In the last four years, Central Dauphin has earned at least a share of the Commonwealth crown three times. That recent history isn’t lost on State College coach Matt Lintal going into the Little Lions’ division showdown against the Rams at Landis Field in Harrisburg at 7 p.m. Friday.
“To be at the top of the league, you’re going to have to go through Central Dauphin year in and year out,” Lintal said. “So this is a great challenge for us this Friday.”
State College (3-2) and Central Dauphin (4-1) sit atop the Commonwealth standings along with Central Dauphin East. All three are 2-0 in division play.
The Little Lions have won two straight, cruising past Carlisle 37-8 and Chambersburg 42-6 to open their Mid Penn slate.
State College tight end Brett Graham and wide receiver Kellin Valentine emerged as playmakers in those games, providing a boost to an offense powered by running back Jordan Misher at the start of the season.
Graham made nine catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns against Carlisle and Chambersburg. Valentine hauled in two touchdown passes and returned a punt for a score against Chambersburg.
But the blowout victories weren’t perfect. The Little Lions committed nine penalties for 80 yards against the Thundering Herd, and they finished with 14 penalties for 131 yards against the Trojans.
Lintal is focused on fixing those issues this week.
“Against a great football team, you can’t have those mistakes,” Lintal said. “You can’t have drive-ending penalties and you can’t have missed assignments. You need everybody to be on the same page all the time, so if we can clean all that stuff up and focus on what we do, our kids firmly believe we can go out and compete against anybody.”
The Rams picked up wins over conference foes Chambersburg and Harrisburg in the last two weeks.
Central Dauphin’s lone loss came to unbeaten District 3 power Wilson 14-12 in Week 3.
The Rams boast four rushers averaging 44 yards per game.
Running back Raleigh Sirb leads the team with 97.5 yards per game and seven rushing touchdowns. Fellow running backs Chimdi Okpara and Dylan Weaver average 46 and 44.5 yards per game, respectively.
Quarterback David Payton III also averages 46 yards on the ground, a number boosted by a 128-yard effort against Susquehanna Township.
Lintal said Central’s Dauphin’s success starts with the offensive line.
“They come off the football extremely well,” Lintal said. “We have to be able to maintain our ground, and effectively do our jobs defensively and try to shut down their running game, which is always kind of their bread and butter. If you can control the line of scrimmage, you have a chance to win the football game.”
Payton III is coming off his best passing performance of the season. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in a 34-21 win over Harrisburg last week.
Payton III shares time at quarterback with AJ Millar, who has completed 50 percent of his passes and thrown for three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“It speaks to how well they’re coached to be able to have two different kids leading your offense out there and being able to shuffle them around and still have effective communication,” Lintal said.
Lintal is confident in his defense after holding its last two opponents to 14 combined points.
The coach has been impressed with Jon Seighman leading the secondary.
“He’s had some great plays the last couple weeks and been a physical presence on the field with some big hits,” Lintal said. “And just really doing a great job getting our secondary lined up and knowing what’s going on.”
And Lintal said his players understand what’s on the line Friday night against a team that’s beaten the Little Lions five years in a row.
“They recognize that right now, we’re both sitting at the top of the conference after two weeks of conference play,” Lintal said. “And this would be a great statement to make for the Mid Penn Commonwealth, so we’re excited for this opportunity.”