State College running back Jordan Misher took the handoff and made his way toward the goal line.
The Little Lions had climbed back into their Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth Division showdown with Central Dauphin after falling behind by three touchdowns early in the third quarter. They were three yards from pulling within four points in the final period.
But the ball was knocked loose and went out of bounds in the Memorial Field end zone for a touchback.
Central Dauphin took possession at the 20-yard line, and State College’s comeback attempt ran out of steam. The Little Lions fell 35-17 to the Rams on Friday night.
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“Obviously it was a heartbreaker,” State College coach Matt Lintal said. “… (It) could have shook out a little differently for sure, but I think our kids can still gain confidence from this and still push forward for the future.”
The victory extended Central Dauphin’s win streak against State College to seven games. The Little Lions’ last win in the series was 2008, which was also the year of the team’s last outright division title.
State College last earned a share of the title in 2009, and the Little Lions knew the Central Dauphin matchup would be crucial in their quest to achieve that goal this season.
The Rams have earned at least a share of the division championship the last four years, and they now sit atop the standings with Cumberland Valley, which beat Carlisle 44-20 on Friday night.
Central Dauphin (6-0) entered the night ranked No. 1 in the state by MaxPreps and No. 3 in Class AAAA in Pennlive.com’s weekly poll.
The Rams took control in the first half behind a 58-yard touchdown run by Raleigh Sirb and a 53-yard touchdown run by Reid Albright. Sirb finished with 164 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and Albright rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns on two carries to lead Central Dauphin’s 302-yard night on the ground.
“They do such a great job just being consistent and meticulous with their run game,” Lintal said.
Albright’s 53-yard score in the second quarter pushed Central Dauphin ahead 21-0. State College responded with a scoring drive that lasted the final 2:51 of the half.
It was kept alive by a roughing the kicker penalty on a punt before quarterback Tyler Snyder led his team down the field. He connected with Kellin Valentine for 13 yards and hit Jay Shoop for an 18-yard pickup on consecutive plays.
Snyder, who was 5 for 7 for 50 yards on the drive, found Valentine for a five-yard touchdown with no time remaining to end the half.
He couldn’t carry that momentum into the second half, as the Little Lions’ first drive ended on an interception. Lintal then turned to sophomore Drew Friberg at quarterback.
Friberg completed his first four passes on a State College drive capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Misher to make it 28-14. Misher finished with 118 yards rushing on 25 carries.
“Drew brings a different dimension just with his height and being able to kind of see the field,” Lintal said. “Really proud of his first real live competition out here, being able to step in there and get some great reps and really move the ball down the field for us.”
Snyder finished 9 for 18 for 84 yards to go with his touchdown and interception, and Friberg completed 11 of 15 passes for 115 yards.
“I think we got two good quarterbacks,” Lintal said. “Obviously we always try to create competition at every position, and I think any time you can have that, it’s going to make everybody better, both of those guys. No idea where we go from here, we see how the week progresses, but Tyler Snyder’s a great quarterback and Drew Friber’s developing into one as well.”
State College recovered an onside kick after Misher’s score, but had to settle for a 44-yard field goal by Noah Schwab with 2:34 left in the third quarter.
The defense forced Central Dauphin to punt on the second play of the fourth quarter. And the Little Lions drove down the field again using a mixture of six rushes and two completions to get to the 3-yard line.
But State College fumbled with 7:56 left and couldn’t recover.
“They never gave up,” Lintal said. “No matter what happened, no matter what was going on in the game, they just kept fighting. I’m really proud of our kids.”