State College came up short in a defensive struggle Friday night.
The Little Lions kept pace with the Central Dauphin East, but they failed on two point-after conversions in a 14-12 loss at Landis Field. The difference proved to be a missed extra point and an interception on a two-point conversion attempt to tie the game in the fourth quarter. State College punted the ball seven times and converted six first downs in the loss.
It was the Little Lions’ third straight loss in Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth division play. The Panthers (7-1, 5-0) moved into sole possession of first place in the division due to Central Dauphin’s 7-0 loss to Cumberland Valley.
State College was limited to 44 yards rushing on 26 carries. Quarterback John Weakland completed 7 of 19 passes for 139 yards and threw two touchdowns and two interceptions. Running back Jordan Misher finished with 48 yards rushing on 19 carries.
CD East relied on its ground game to move the ball, piling up 211 yards on 42 carries. Running back Joe Lemelle led the way with 104 yards rushing on 19 carries, while quarterback Jahad Neibauer ran for 91 yards on 13 carries. Neibauer also threw for a touchdown.
State College (3-5, 2-3) stayed in the game behind its defense, which allowed just one score.
The Little Lions and Panthers were locked in a scoreless tie after the first quarter.
CD East dominated the field-position battle in the first half, but the Little Lions held the Panthers off the board twice early in the second quarter.
On fourth-and 14 from the 26-yard line, Quintin Smith dropped a pass by Niebauer in the end zone. State College went three-and-out, punting the ball back to CD East in favorable field position. But the Little Lions defense forced another turnover on downs after three straight incompletions by CD East quarterback Justis Jacobs from the 26-yard line.
The Panthers broke the scoreless tie with A.J. Perez’s 15-yard interception return for a touchdown on State College’s ensuing drive.
Panthers defensive lineman Brandon Hickerson-Rooks deflected the pass by Weakland on Perez’s interception. Niko Zervanos connected on the extra point to give CD East a 7-0 lead with 4:25 left in the first half.
The Little Lions answered three plays and 56 seconds later.
Weakland hit wide receiver Drew Flanagan for a 74-yard catch-and-run touchdown. But kicker Kevin Cramer missed the extra point.
The Little Lions went into the break trailing 7-6.
Central Dauphin East added to its lead late in the third quarter.
Neibauer found Gevante Elam from seven yards out to cap a seven-play drive. Lemelle rushed for 57 yards on the scoring drive.
Down 14-6, Misher made a big play on the second play of the fourth quarter with a 22-yard punt return.
State College needed to go 28 yards to the end zone.
After Weakland connected with Flanagan for a 7-yard gain, Misher carried the ball four straight plays for 12 yards.
The Little Lions faced fourth-and-3 from the 9-yard line, and an offsides penalty on CD East gave them the first down.
Kellin Valentine pulled in a 5-yard pass for a touchdown, bringing State College within 14-12 with 8:59 remaining. Weakland was intercepted on the two-point conversion attempt.
State College had just one possession the rest of the night.
The Little Lions took over with 4:17 to play, but they had to punt the ball away after three consecutive incompletions by Weakland.
And CD East ran out the clock after converting on fourth-and-1 on a keeper by Neibauer with 1:37 to play.
State College takes on Cumberland Valley on the road next Friday at 7 p.m.