State College coach Matt Lintal and his players can feel the excitement build at the high school as Friday approaches each week.
By Friday, Lintal said there’s a buzz in the air.
This week may be more exciting than the rest as the Little Lions host Cumberland Valley for a chance to move into a tie for first place in the Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth division standings.
State College basketball coach Joe Walker has provided an assist in generating more excitement, letting everyone know what’s at stake when the teams meet at 7 p.m. at Memorial Field.
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“He’s been walking around the halls, ‘Hey, I’ll see you on Friday and see you guys in the stands at the big game — chance to win the Mid Penn championship,’ ” said Lintal, a counselor at the high school. “So he’s been walking around spreading the word.”
Cumberland Valley (7-1) is alone in first place at 5-0 in the division, while State College is tied for second with Central Dauphin at 4-1. With a win, the Little Lions (5-3) would be in position to earn at least a share of the division title for the first time since 2009.
State College got back into the division race after Cumberland Valley knocked off Central Dauphin 24-21 last week.
“To have this opportunity at this point in the year, that’s really what you’re hoping for,” Lintal said.
State College has taken care of Harrisburg and Central Dauphin East the last two weeks after falling to Central Dauphin.
The Little Lions dominated in a 35-7 win over the Panthers a week ago. Sophomore running back Tristen Lyons started in place of Jordan Misher and rushed for 227 yards on 25 carries to spark the offense. Lintal expects Misher, who did not play for an undisclosed reason, to return to the lineup this Friday.
Misher has rushed for 1,053 yards and 16 touchdowns in seven games this season.
Lintal is quick to credit the offensive line — left tackle Mark Weakland, left guard Wade Bonsell, center Jack Vandevort, right guard Doug Swoboda and right tackle Will Swope — and tight ends Brett Graham and Erik Swanson for the running game’s success.
“It all starts up front,” Lintal said.
Cumberland Valley has a balanced rushing attack led by Joey Heikel (581 yards) and Nicholas Rhodes (546 yards). Eight players have combined to account for the team’s 28 rushing touchdowns, and quarterback Josh Ferguson has thrown for eight touchdowns and two interceptions.
In the Eagles’ seven wins, they have limited opponents to 10.6 points per game.
“Cumberland Valley is Cumberland Valley, and they always have a good football team,” Lintal said. “These kids have been running the same exact offense and defense since they were in seventh grade. They do it very efficiently, very effectively, everybody knows what they’re doing and they just execute it extremely well.”
But the Little Lions head into this Friday confident having played their share of tough teams already.
State College’s three losses have come to Spring-Ford (8-0), Bishop McDevitt (7-1) and Central Dauphin (7-1).
“We’ve seen some great competition,” Lintal said. “Our kids, they don’t back down from this challenge. They’re ready. They’re jumping at it full bore.”
And they’ll have the crowd behind them in their final home game before finishing the regular season next week at Mifflin County.
“We’re thrilled with the atmosphere that we’ve established at Memorial Field,” Lintal said. “It’s been pretty special this year, so really excited to have that opportunity for our seniors to have one last, really big home football game.”