Coming off a blowout win over Mifflin County in the District 6 6A championship game last week, State College jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the first 9 minutes, 5 seconds of its District 6-8-10 sub-regional game against McDowell and looked well on its way to another easy playoff win.
McDowell’s potent running game gashed the Little Lions’ defense after that, however, leading to a pair of scores that made it a 20-13 game late in the first half. That’s when a special teams play turned the tide back in State’s favor for good.
Isaiah Edwards returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a momentum-changing touchdown that put the 11-1 Little Lions back in control.
“Coach [Joe] Nastasi drew up a great play. I saw the seam. I hit it,” the 6-foot, 200-pound junior said. “I got a little tired. Made the kicker miss and was just hoping to get in the end zone.”
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State College, which has eliminated McDowell (7-5) from the playoffs four of the last five years, blew out the Trojans in the second half for a 55-20 win Friday night at St. Francis University’s DeGol Field.
The State College special teams also recovered a surprise onside kick in the first quarter and blocked a punt in the third, both of which set the offense with great field position that resulted in touchdowns. The blocked punt gave State College the ball near midfield.
Edwards cashed that opportunity in with a 1-yard TD run out of the team’s wildcat package. After QB Tommy Friberg hit Keaton Ellis along the sideline for a 16-yard gain, Edwards flattened a McDowell defender just past the line of scrimmage for a 25-yard gain running the wildcat that set up the touchdown.
“The coaches haven’t let me explore on throwing the ball yet, but I can either give it to Dre’ Green, who’s an awesome running back, or I can run it myself,” Edwards said.
State College needed just three plays to score its next two touchdowns. Cohen Russell took a reverse 50 yards on the first play following a short McDowell punt, and Brady Dorner outran the Trojan’s defense 80 yards up the middle on the second play after McDowell had just scored.
While State College used the running game to put away the game in the second half, it was the passing game that got the team out of the gate, starting with the first two plays from scrimmage. Russell raced 41 yards then 24 yards on back-to-back wide receiver screens, setting up a Green 6-yard touchdown to open the scoring.
Friberg then started State’s next possession with a 32-yard completion to Ellis, followed by a 16-yard pass play to Russell. Three plays later, Green scored on a 5-yard run to make it 13-0. The Little Lions’ third possession ended with a Ellis making a leaping catch in the end zone on a fade pattern for an 11-yard TD and a quick 20-0 lead.
“That gave us a lot of momentum. The execution was excellent. Guys like to make plays,” SC coach Matt Lintal said. “Credit McDowell, though. They didn’t give up at all.”
A holding penalty wiped out a touchdown on the next drive, and a lost fumble ended the possession after that one, giving McDowell an opportunity to get back in the game.
“Those are controllable errors,” Lintal said. “Those are the things we have to control and make sure we’re finishing drives when we’re moving the ball.”
Friberg completed 11-of-15 passes for 194 yards and the one touchdown to Ellis. Russell and Ellis caught four passes each for 90 and 78 yards, respectively. Green ran for 80 yards and the two first quarter scores on 16 carries.
McDowell’s Elijah Lopez carried the ball 32 times for 234 yards and a touchdown. The Trojans failed to finish several drives in the first half, however, turning the ball over on downs three times in State College territory in the the first half.
“We ran the ball up and down the field against a loaded box and a really good defense,” McDowell coach Bo Orlando said. “Football’s a game of momentum. We had a penalty [on 1st-and-goal] that backed us up in the second quarter. We don’t get in there. They return a kick. Next thing you know, they’re up big.”