All year long, State College had been able to depend on its defense.
On Friday night, the defense gave way at the end.
The Little Lions defense broke with just under two minutes to go in a 13-10 loss to Central Dauphin. It was State College’s first loss of the year and the teams shared the Mid Penn Commonwealth title for the second year in a row.
“It was one heck of a championship football game,” Rams coach Glen Mcnamee said. “Both teams showed why this game had the meaning that it had. Its two teams that not only have good players but the sum is greater than the individual parts of both teams. It led to a real classic here tonight.”
Down 10-6 with 5:40 to go, Central Dauphin started a drive at its own 41, methodically working down the field in just under four minutes.
The drive ended on a Terrell Gabriel sweep to the left side and into the end zone for an 11-yard score with 1:53 remaining. It was the first time the Rams led since they opened the game with a field goal.
“They are a great football team,” Little Lions coach Matt Lintal said. “They did a great job. Credit to Coach Mcnamee and the Central Dauphin team.”
The Little Lions looked to respond with one timeout in the bank and 1:45 to go. Tristen Lyons set State College up at its own 40 thanks to a 34-yard kickoff return. Tyler Snyder connected with Brandon Clark for a 12-yard gain. The next play saw Snyder scramble for a nine-yard gain and 1:14 left on the clock.
State College’s undefeated regular season came to a close when Snyder looked to hook up with Clark again. Snyder’s pass was high to the 6-foot-4 Clark, who tipped the ball up in the air. Pope, who was was the safety on the play, came up with an interception.
“They are an outstanding football team,” Mcnamee said. “They have all the pieces. Quite honestly, I can’t think of anything they don’t have. I told Coach Lintal after the game, ‘I really hope we don’t have to face them again.’”
Near the end of the first quarter, Central Dauphin looked poised to regain the lead after State College tied it at 3-3 thanks to a Jack Sheehan 18-yard field goal.
The Rams started a drive at its 39. They got some timely plays to keep it alive. Millar connected with Manus Frank on a 12-yard pass on third down and converted on another when Millar picked up nine yards with his feet. Gabriel used three straight runs to get Central Dauphin to Little Lions’ 13 but it came up to fourth and one.
State College turned the Rams away. Gabriel went to run around the left side of the line when he met Donovan Brown. Brown took the big, bulky running back out at the knees for the turnover on downs.
The Little Lions picked up a 10-3 lead with 3:15 left in the first half when Tyler Snyder hooked up with backup quarterback Drew Friberg on a 45-yard pass that saw Friberg wide open in the middle of the field. A roughing the passer penalty kept the drive alive. Central Dauphin responded with another Ethan Van Buskirk field goal and trailed 10-6 going into the half.
The teams traded possessions and field position for much of the third quarter. The Rams got a chance to claim the lead early in the fourth quarter, but that State College defense responded. On second down, Millar plunged for a one-yard gain. On third down from the 1-yard line, Gabriel attempted to run through the line wasn’t going. On fourth down, Gabriel attempted to jump over the pile but he was met by a Little Lion defender and it was a turnover on downs.
“All game long with their backs against the wall they found a way to make big plays when it counted,” Lintal said of his defense. “I’m proud of these kids. Their effort was fantastic. Yeah, it hurts right now. We’ll be back.”