Undefeated with a 120-30 point differential through its first five games, the State College football team cruised in the first half of the year.
The Little Lions didn’t face much adversity at all.
But on Friday night, they met their match — and prevailed.
Despite a nine-point deficit and all the momentum in the world going against it at halftime, State College rebounded after the break and solidified its best win of the year in a 20-16 victory over Cumberland Valley at Memorial Field.
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The Little Lions (6-0, 2-0 Mid Penn Commonwealth) take sole possession of first place in their division, while the Eagles (5-1, 2-1) slipped down the standings in a battle between two of central Pennsylvania’s finest.
State College running back Pete Haffner finished with two touchdowns, quarterback Tyler Snyder tallied 187 passing yards, and his favorite target, Noah Woods, hauled in seven catches for 114 yards.
“I’m just so proud of these kids,” an emotional State College coach Matt Lintal said while standing along the chaotic sideline after the game. “They never quit, and they never stopped believing in each other. ... I’m overjoyed.”
For Cumberland Valley, wide receiver Charlie Katshir was the offense’s bright spot, racking up six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Eagles signal-caller Jared Plessinger had 81 passing yards while the State College defense limited star tailback Josiah Quigley to 29 rushing yards on 19 carries.
Holding a running back like Quigley to that low of a total was a proud feat for Lintal’s team. The hard-nosed runner hit the century mark in every other contest this year.
But it was State College’s late-game resilience that had the coach smiling cheek to cheek.
Down 16-10 with a handful of minutes to play, the Little Lions stared down a near-impossible conversion — third-and-25 on their own 7 yard-line.
Snyder didn’t expect what was to come next.
“I’m thinking we’re just going to run it, punt it, and try to get the ball back one more time,” the senior signal-caller said.
But Lintal gave Snyder and his teammates a real chance to convert.
Snyder took the snap, eyed Woods over the middle and connected, with Woods carrying a couple Cumberland Valley defenders along the way to a 36-yard gain.
Memorial Field was rocking.
“There aren’t too many plays in the playbook,” Lintal admitted, “but there’s plenty of playmakers on the field. We just had to find a way to get them the ball.”
Eagles coach Michael Whitehead was disappointed in his defensive effort in that moment.
“You can’t do that against them,” the coach said. “When you have teams pinned back, you gotta stop them.”
Sure enough, it cost Eagles.
Five plays later, Haffner was trucking his way into the end zone.
State College led 20-16 with 3:56 to go in regulation.
The Little Lions held the Eagles to a three-and-out, and with just over two minutes to go, State College converted on a crucial third-and-six, handing the ball off to Haffner and letting him pile forward for the first down.
Cumberland Valley had no way to get the ball the back. It was victory formation time.
“That was the game-winner right there,” Lintal said of Haffner’s run. “That was it.”
It was a raucous and jubilating finish for the Little Lions, but they endured a difficult first half to get there.
Cumberland Valley held a 9-7 lead as State College drove down the field with less than a minute to go until halftime when Snyder made his one massive mistake.
On an out pattern, he overthrew his intended target and the ball landed right in the arms of Cumberland Valley’s Alex Hetzel, who returned it 80 yards for a touchdown.
But the quarterback didn’t sulk.
“He wasn’t fazed at all,” Lintal said of Snyder. “He came off the field as calm and cool as could be.”
He guided the Little Lions in the second half with that demeanor, too.
It was a critical win for State College, one the team believes is a statement victory.
With little resistance throughout the Little Lions opening five games, this was a hard-fought effort — a night State College had been waiting for.
“It’s a process to get where you want to be so you’re ready for games like this,” Lintal said of the team’s early schedule. “There’s more to come. There’s a lot more to come. ... Now let’s keep it rolling.”