As the clocked ticked closer to halftime, Erie McDowell had yet to record one first down.
A 29-yard circus catch on third down finally moved the chains and put the Trojans at the doorstep of the end zone.
Four plays later, with the ball inches from the goal line and 18 seconds left, State College blew through the offensive line and swallowed up McDowell running back Jared Carlson. The Little Lions’ goal-line stand capped a brilliant defensive effort in the first half.
The Little Lions were firmly in control despite giving away three fumbles, including one in the end zone, thanks to the defense’s shutout through two quarters.
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“Our thing all postseason has been if they don’t score, they don’t win,” State College defensive lineman Barrett McMurtry said. “We got to just keep the goose egg on the scoreboard.”
State College finally surrendered a touchdown with just more than three minutes to play, but it did little to tarnish the defense’s brilliance in a 27-6 win over McDowell in a PIAA Class AAAA first round game Saturday at Clarion University. The Little Lions held McDowell to 22 yards rushing on 19 carries and bottled up star quarterback Jake Tarasovitch.
Tarasovitch came into the game with more than 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing. He rushed for three yards on five carries and went 1 for 8 for 15 yards passing Saturday.
The Little Lions relied on running back Jordan Misher to key the offense once again. Misher carried the ball 33 times for 111 yards and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
State College (6-6) advances to the PIAA quarterfinals to face WPIAL champion Pine-Richland (13-0) at a site and time to be determined.
The Little Lions have cruised in two postseason wins, holding both opponents to one touchdown.
“These kids have been confident no matter who we’ve been playing all year long,” State College coach Matt Lintal said. “From the Central Dauphins to CD East to Bishop McDevitt to Martinsburg, a couple state champs in there. It didn’t matter who we were playing, our kids showed up ready to play and they know from our schedule that we play that they can compete with anybody.”
Kellin Valentine scored the first touchdown on a 5-yard run in the first quarter. State College kicker Noah Schwab hit field goals from 24 and 27 yards out.
“Noah has really stepped up,” Lintal said. “He’s a first-year player for us and it’s the first time he’s been out for football. He’s been kicking in the backyard since he was a little guy, but just came out and really stepped up.”
State College’s defense overmatched McDowell (8-5) from the start.
The Trojans punted on their first five possessions, failing to take advantage of State College fumbles.
McDowell’s first and only first down of the first half came on their final drive with the Little Lions leading 10-0.
McDowell quarterback Levi Becker lofted a pass down the left sideline on third-and-12 for Carlson with Misher in coverage. Carlson juggled the ball and finally secured the catch on his back for a 29-yard gain to the 7-yard line.
On first and goal, Carlson picked up four yards. Tyler Hammond plowed forward for two more yards on second down.
Tarasovitch was stopped short, the ball resting inches from the goal line, on third down with 18 seconds left. Carlson couldn’t find the end zone on fourth down, either.
“I think it was a swarm of maroon, just 11 guys flying to the football, playing together, doing their job,” Lintal said. “That was a huge stop.”
“We had all 11 hats on the ball and they’re not going to get in if we do that,” McMurtry said.
State College took a 10-0 lead into halftime.
The Little Lions picked up right where they left off on the opening possession of the third quarter.
State College linebacker Nathan King drilled Carlson for a loss of a yard on first down. Linebacker Pete Haffner batted down a pass as he pressured Tarasovitch. King then grabbed an interception on third down.
After McDowell picked up its second first down of the game two possessions later, McMurtry sacked Becker for a loss of six yards and caused an intentional grounding penalty to force fourth down and a punt.
“They don’t just want to tackle you,” Lintal said of his defense. “They want to knock guys down. They want the offense to know where they’re at, at all times and our kids are creating turnovers, they’re playing together, assignment football and I’m very proud of our defensive coaching staff for the effort they’re putting in and the mentality that are kids are playing with right now.”
Misher punched in two 1-yard touchdowns to push State College ahead 27-0 in the first quarter.
The shutout came to an end when Becker found Carlson for a 27-yard touchdown with 3:11 remaining.
The scoreboard still reflected a standout day for the State College defense.
“The whole entire playoff season, they’re really stepping it up for us,” Misher said. “They’re a lockdown ‘D’.”