Cohen Russell wants to see State College make a statement with its physicality on the first play of its game against Cumberland Valley.
“You just got to go and smack ’em in the mouth,” the Little Lions wide receiver said. “You just got to think that they’re not going to beat us — that we need to beat them.”
Russell and State College will need to play with that mindset Friday night in their first challenge this season. The Little Lions (5-0) have rolled through their first five games, averaging 57.6 points and putting games out of reach by halftime in blowout victories.
Their most explosive performance came last week when they scored 70 points in a win over Carlisle in their Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth division opener, but they won’t be able to coast to victory against a tough, physical Cumberland Valley team led by Penn State commit Charlie Katshir. The Eagles (4-1) are coming off a 20-14 loss to another Mid Penn power in Central Dauphin, and Little Lions coach Matt Lintal said this matchup will serve as a “benchmark” for his team.
“This is where we hoped we would be at this point of the year,” Lintal said. “You never know how things are going to shake out, and obviously we’re pretty excited heading into this week to have an opportunity to play a great Cumberland Valley football team.
“We have a lot of respect for their program and the success that they’ve had traditionally.”
The Little Lions have won the past two matchups against Cumberland Valley and enter this week’s matchup in a similar situation as they did in 2016. Last season, State College outscored its first five opponents 210-30 during a perfect start — this year, they’ve outscored their opponents 288-85 so far.
State College will have to account for Katshir on both sides of the ball. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound wide receiver/safety leads the Eagles with 14 catches for 268 yards and three touchdowns and ranks second on the team with 197 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
“Everyone has to know where No. 2 is on every snap,” Lintal said. “He’s established himself for a number of years as a player that is going to need to be identified each and every game because he is such a playmaker.”
The Little Lions practiced with one player wearing a pinnie this week to play Katshir’s role — running back Isaiah Edwards and wide receiver Chase Longenecker each saw time in that spot — to prepare for the dynamic athlete.
“He’s a good player,” State College linebacker Ian Barr said. “Penn State offer — you can’t argue with that at all. It’s just knowing where he is, knowing where he lines up.”
He won’t be the Little Lions’ only concern, though, as running back Jake Palmer rushed for more than 100 yards in the team’s first four games before being limited to 50 in the loss to Central Dauphin. The Little Lions expect Cumberland Valley to try to wear them down with their Wing-T offense, but State College defensive end Cole Urbas feels his team is ready for that challenge.
The Little Lions coaching staff has stressed playing at a low-pad level like they do every year ahead of the Cumberland Valley game. They’ll also need to match Cumberland Valley’s intensity.
“We’re ready to really prove ourselves this week,” Urbas said. “It’s going to be a good test for our team. If we control the line of scrimmage, we feel confident that we’ll be able to go in there and beat ’em in their own house.”