Before Central Dauphin running back Raleigh Sirb raced 51 yards through the rain for a game-turning touchdown, State College was in control.
The Little Lions held the lead for the previous 26-plus minutes of action. With more than 15 minutes to go, they were in position to end their five-game losing streak to the Rams.
But State College failed to take advantage of opportunities to build on a four-point lead in the second half. The Little Lions drove to the 8-yard line on the opening drive of the third quarter, only to settle for a 23-yard field goal attempt that was left short.
A holding penalty killed the rhythm of State College’s next drive. Minutes later, Sirb broke loose and found the end zone to push the Rams ahead for good in a 10-7 win over the Little Lions in a Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth division battle Friday night.
“That was a big shift in the momentum,” State College coach Matt Lintal said of Sirb’s score. “We had moved the ball, had a great drive, we were really pounding the football and then we don’t convert. And then he comes out and makes a big play there, so those are opportunities where we have to step back out and move the football.”
But the State College offense stalled, shut down by the Rams defense and a flurry of penalties on its final three drives.
The Little Lions (3-3) finished with 12 penalties for a loss of 85 yards one week after committing 14 penalties for a loss of 131 yards in a win over Chambersburg. Central Dauphin (5-1) committed eight penalties for 55 yards.
“They were killers,” Lintal said. “Both sides of the ball. There were penalties. We’ve made it a point of emphasis throughout the week and clearly we got to make it a point of emphasis here throughout the next week as well.”
The Little Lions went three-and-out on their first possession after the touchdown by Sirb, who finished with 173 yards rushing on 18 carries.
On State College’s first drive of the fourth quarter, three penalties in six plays left the Little Lions punting on fourth-and-23 with more than eight minutes to go.
When State College finally regained possession, still trailing 10-7 with 3:15 to go, the Little Lions’ final drive started at the 3-yard line after a perfectly placed punt by Central Dauphin’s Jacob Kerschner.
After getting two first downs, the Little Lions were whistled for two penalties — their 11th and 12th of the game — and they faced first-and-20 from the 16-yard line. After two sacks, they faced fourth-and-34 from the 2-yard line with 40 seconds left.
And State College quarterback John Weakland’s desperation heave down the sideline was picked off by Central Dauphin’s Jordan Hatcher.
The Little Lions would finish with just seven points, an unexpected development after they found the end zone on their first drive.
“I thought we would be able to put some more points on the board,” Lintal said. “I think our offensive line started the game really well, did a tremendous job coming off the football there and moving guys up front. And I think we saw that in periods of the game. We just didn’t finish.”
State College overcame a holding penalty on its first drive thanks to two big catches by wide receiver Chris McDonough. His first grab went for 7 yards and set up third-and-10. Weakland then connected with McDonough again, hitting him for 17 yards over the middle to pick up the first down.
Three plays later, on third-and-11, McDonough hauled in a 17-yard touchdown pass. State College kicker Kevin Cramer converted the extra point to give the Little Lions a 7-0 lead with 5:43 left in the first quarter.
But despite showing an ability to move the ball at times, picking up 17 first downs in the game, the Little Lions never put together another scoring drive.
“We had plays out there to make and we left a lot of plays on the field,” Lintal said.
Central Dauphin got on the board with a 23-yard field goal by Kerschner in the second quarter. Cramer missed from 23 yards in the third quarter with State College leading 7-3.
Just more than four minutes later, Sirb made one cut at the line of scrimmage and burst through a hole, going 51 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
“Momentum is a very important factor in high school football, especially in a big game like this,” Central Dauphin coach Glen McNamee said. “And that helped us a lot with momentum.”
State College could never regain the momentum.
Missed opportunities and penalties prevented a comeback.
“We left a lot of points out here tonight,” said Lintal.