State College football coach Matt Lintal said he thought his team would need to put 28 points on the board to come away with a win over Central Dauphin.
That was before the Little Lions and Rams kicked off last week.
The game turned into a defensive struggle, with State College holding the upper hand after finding the end zone on its first drive. The Little Lions failed to score on their final nine possessions, falling three touchdowns short of Lintal’s goal and three points short on the scoreboard in a 10-7 loss.
“We’ve got to put the ball in the end zone,” Lintal said after the setback.
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After the loss, the coach couldn’t help but feel his team missed plenty of opportunities to finish closer to the four-score bar he set. But he also couldn’t ignore a problem that’s plagued his team for three straight weeks. State College was whistled for 12 penalties last Friday, pushing their total for the last three games to 35.
Lintal said cleaning up that problem will be a focus as State College (3-3, 2-1) prepares to host Harrisburg (3-3, 0-3) in Mid Penn Conference play at 7 p.m. Friday at Memorial Field.
The Cougars come into the game on a three-game losing streak, with all three losses coming to conference opponents.
Last week, Harrisburg suffered a devastating 20-19 loss to Central Dauphin East. The Cougars fumbled twice in the final two minutes and gave up the game-winning touchdown with 45 seconds left.
In the previous two weeks, Harrisburg lost to Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley.
State College got off to a fast last week, thanks to quarterback John Weakland.
Weakland was perfect on the opening drive, completing 4 of 4 passes and finding wide receiver Chris McDonough for a 17-yard touchdown to give the Little Lions the lead. McDonough made two other catches during that opening drive, including a 17-yard pass for a key third-down conversion, but did not have another reception the rest of the game.
“The wind was a little bit tough there those two quarters where we had to throw it,” Lintal said. “It took a little bit off the ball, but Chris did a great job there that opening drive, had some key touches and really, really moved the football forward for us.”
State College got the ball moving again to start the third quarter, thanks to Weakland and running back Jordan Misher.
Weakland completed two passes for a combined 28 yards to move the Little Lions to the 27-yard line. Misher then carried the ball four straight plays, giving State College second-and-goal at the 5-yard line. The Little Lions eventually missed a field goal to end the drive.
State College didn’t commit one penalty during that 13-play sequence.
But penalties contributed to slowing State College’s drives the rest of the night. The Little Lions amassed six of their 12 penalties on their final four possessions.
The Little Lions lost 85 yards on the 12 penalties against Central Dauphin. They committed 14 penalties for 131 yards the previous week against Chambersburg and nine penalties for 80 yards against Carlisle in Week 4.
The flags proved costly in the loss last week after two blowout wins over Chambersburg and Carlisle.
“Our kids don’t quit,” Lintal said. “They don’t give up. They fight and they play hard and I’m proud of them for their effort. We just need to clean up those penalties and drive-killing stops, so we can move the ball forward and put some more points on the board.”
Harrisburg has allowed 27.3 points per game during its three-game slide.
The Cougars also gave up 204 yards rushing to Cumberland Valley and 179 yards on the ground to Central Dauphin before limiting Central Dauphin East to 63 yards on 30 carries. State College has averaged 180.7 yards rushing, led by Misher’s 126.3 yards per game.
Offensively, Harrisburg running back Sheldon Snell leads the team in rushing with 67.8 yards per game. He’s surpassed the 100-yard mark once this season, in the opener against McCaskey.
Quarterback Mikale Clark has thrown for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s averaging 190.3 yards through the air and 43.2 yards on the ground. Wide receiver Kani Little has made 18 catches for 303 yards and five touchdowns.