State College’s defense faced the challenge of stopping one of the state’s most prolific passers in its first postseason game.
After forcing five turnovers and knocking off DuBois 29-7 in the District 6-9 Class AAAA Football Championship, the Little Lions now face an entirely different task — stopping one of the state’s most prolific triple-threat quarterbacks.
State College (5-6) tackles Erie McDowell (8-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Clarion University.
The Trojans are led by quarterback Jake Tarasovitch, who is especially dangerous with his legs. Tarasovitch has rushed for 1,002 yards and has 13 of the team’s 25 rushing touchdowns. He also has done damage with his arm, completing 78 of 154 passes for 946 yards and six scores.
But triple threat?
Yes, Tarasovitch can catch it, too. He has 11 receptions for 162 yards and two scores.
In last week’s 35-6 romp against District 8 champion Brashear, Tarasovitch rushed for a score, threw for a touchdown and caught a TD pass. He also plays on defense and recovered a fumble last week.
The key on Saturday for the Little Lions?
“Stop No. 9,” State College coach Matt Lintal said emphatically of Tarasovitch. “If we can control him, I think we can win the football game.”
Lintal said Tarasovitch presents a number of challenges for the Little Lion defense.
“He’s a really tough football player,” Lintal said. “He plays on both sides of the ball. When he is out there offensively, he just runs hard. He is the one that they want to get the ball to. It’s tough trying to key him and finding him wherever he’s at — sometimes he’s at quarterback, sometimes he’s at wideout or sometimes he’s at running back. Just being able to identify where he is and how they’re going to try to get him the football, that’s really the key.”
Lintal said his team is up for the challenge. In frigid conditions last week at Hollidaysburg, the Little Lions shut down Gabe French and the prolific DuBois offense. French, who entered the game with 40 touchdowns passes, threw just one, while being picked off three times in State College territory.
State College’s offense rolled up 295 yards on the ground, paced by 190 yards and three touchdowns from Jordan Misher.
Quarterback John Weakland also had a solid night, completing 11 of 17 passes for 155 yards, and racing 58 yards to set up one of Misher’s TDs.
“John did a tremendous job,” Lintal said. “He had some key runs and some key throws. We had a couple of drops that this yardage probably could have been another 100 yards. He’s doing a great job of running our offense and taking advantage of whatever the defense gives us either in the run or pass game. He really runs the ship back there.”
The triumph was State College’s second consecutive dominant win after dropping four straight close decisions in the regular season.
“These last two victories have really been a boost for our kids,” Lintal said. “We always felt like we could play with anybody. These two wins help you forget about the run of close losses we had. Our kids are realy positive about where we are and where we are headed. They want to keep these pads and keep playing football.”
To keep doing that, Lintal knows his club needs to not only watch Tarasovitch, but continue doing the little things right. The Little Lions were hit for nine penaltie for 111 yards against DuBois.
“The margin for error is a lot slimmer,” Lintal said. “You have to manage those little things. Our kids are playing aggressive. They’re playing with great instinct and really trusting one another. We’re proud of the effort we’re putting in.”
His club showed no trouble in the cold conditions at Hollidaysburg. He said the Little Lions also practiced well outside this past week.
“We say that no matter what the weather — hot or cold — we’re treating it as it’s 68 (degrees) and breezy,” Lintal said. “We talk about it in preseason camp and we talk about it now when it’s minus-2 real feel. It’s 68 and breezy. Our kids know what that means.”
The winner faces WPIAL champion Pine Richland in the PIAA quarterfinals. Pine Richland (13-0) topped Central Catholic 21-13 on Friday at Heinz Field.