As the marching band played on the field after the game, State College coach Matt Lintal pointed to his running back.
“He’s a stud,” Lintal said. “He’s a stud.”
On this Friday night, the coach wasn’t talking about star senior Jordan Misher.
The coach was pointing to sophomore Tristen Lyons, who was answering a few more questions about his night to remember. Lyons gave an electrifying performance in place of Misher to lead State College to a 35-7 win over Central Dauphin East at Memorial Field. The 5-foot-5 running back rushed for 227 yards on 25 carries to set the tone for the Little Lions.
Misher was in uniform at the game, but Lintal declined to comment on why State College’s 1,000-yard rusher did not play. Misher has been the driving force behind the State College offense, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of the team’s first seven games and accounting for 16 rushing touchdowns.
But State College’s offense clicked with Lyons on Friday night.
“I’ve been wanting this for a long time,” Lyons said. “And to finally be able to get my opportunity is just amazing. My line (was) doing a great job opening up holes for me. I had a lot of fun tonight.”
The rest of the Little Lions did, too.
State College (5-3) dominated after Central Dauphin East quarterback Jahad Neibauer connected with Aaron Arp for a 28-yard touchdown pass 56 seconds into the game. The Panthers (5-3) didn’t score again, coming up empty on three trips inside the 10-yard line — including losing a fumble after recovering a State College fumble to take over at the 1-yard line. The defensive effort paired with State College’s rushing attack for a decisive victory in Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth division play.
“They defend every inch,” Lintal said. “We gave up the ball on the 1-yard line and they found a way to get it back.”
Pete Haffner rushed for 67 yards and two touchdowns on his first three carries of the season to complement the speedy Lyons. Haffner, a 6-foot, 215-pound linebacker, burst up the middle for a 58-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter as State College led 28-7 with 11:35 left.
Quarterbacks Tyler Snyder and Drew Friberg also ran for touchdowns, and Snyder found Kellin Valentine over the middle for a 22-yard touchdown to finish the scoring.
But Lyons stole the show.
The sophomore came into the game with 189 yards rushing on 32 carries all year.
He surpassed that total in the first half Friday night, piling up 194 yards on 14 carries to help State College take a 20-7 lead into halftime. Lyons started with a bang, picking up 21 yards on his first carry and 19 yards on his second. He also had runs of 26, 39 and 58 yards in the first two quarters.
The Central Dauphin East defense spent the night trying to corral the diminutive running back.
“He hides back there,” Lintal said. “We got a big O-line, and he just kind of sneaks around behind them for a while, finds a hole and bursts through it.”
Once he burst through the hole, the group of Panthers defenders chased after him, pulling him down before he could reach the end zone. But the damage was done, and his teammates put the finishing touches on each scoring drive.
“I just had to be patient and let my line do their job,” Lyons said. “And then as soon as the hole opened up, I just had to shoot right through it.”
Lintal wasn’t surprised by Lyons’ performance.
The coach said Lyons has been a standout on the JV team all season.
“We knew what he could do, yeah,” Lintal said. “We’re very proud of him and obviously it all starts up front. We’ve got an offensive line that can really move some people, so really proud of those guys, our tight ends and what they bring.”
Lyons said he was excited and a little nervous before the game, but he was confident in his abilities.
Said Lyons: “I believed that I could do it.”