Big plays made a big difference for the State College football team Friday night.
The Little Lions turned an 81-yard kickoff return, 90-yard fumble return and a blocked punt into points to make Homecoming a night to celebrate at Memorial Field.
Combining the 1-2 punch of Tristen Lyons and Cohen Russell to spearhead a 269-yard rushing effort as a team, State College dropped Central Dauphin East 34-14.
“Really proud of our kids,” coach Matt Lintal said, as Lyons walked over to celebrate the win. “Our offensive line — really a tremendous effort. We asked a lot of the kids up front and on the perimeter as well. We had great blocking all around, so this kid (Lyons) could light it up.”
Lyons had 11 carries for 151 yards and three touchdowns, while Russell had 57 yards on the ground and the 90-yard fumble return for the Little Lions (6-1).
“The O-line, they bust their behinds in practice,” Lyons said. “They do their job very well. Cohen Russell — that kid’s special.”
The Panthers (5-2) did roll up 350 yards on the ground, led by 107 yards on 22 carries from quarterback Kane Everson and 19 attempts for 89 yards from Mike Jones.
With a modest 14-7 lead at halftime, State College took command with the big plays in the third quarter.
It started with Isaiah Edwards bursting up the field with the second-half kickoff for 81 yards, barely tripped up to deny him a score, to start the drive on the Panther 13-yard line. Two plays later, Lyons was celebrating an 11-yard score.
“That just set the tone for that drive,” Lyons said. “Great field position, everyone’s adrenaline’s up, and the mindset is just ‘end zone.’ We just executed.”
It was a hard blow delivered by the Little Lions a mere 53 seconds into the second half.
“It made it really easy,” Russell said. “It made us come out and feel like we can win this, we’re going to dominate, and they had no chance of coming back. It really gave us a confidence boost.”
The Panthers could not convert on fourth down at the State College 45, and the Little Lions quickly turned that opportunity into points, needing just four plays to score. Two of the plays netted 43 yards for Lyons, including a 23-yard touchdown trot.
CD East had another sustained drive down to the red zone, but on third-and-2 from the 16, Kimarea Patterson, in a huge moving pile of bodies, fought for extra yardage. Russell knocked the ball free, scooped it up, hesitated after a few steps to be sure the play wasn’t whistled dead and then was gone for 90 yards. That put State College up 34-7.
“I thought he was down but I didn’t hear a whistle,” Russell said. “Then I just took off.”
Lyons broke off runs of 20 and 39 yards to set up the game’s first score, an eight-yard burst by Russell to the corner midway through the first quarter.
Another big play set up the team’s second score. Brandon Clark, who committed to Penn State earlier in the week as a preferred walk-on, blocked a Panther punt near midfield, and Lyons ended the drive with a 17-yard burst up the middle.
The Panthers got their points on a nine-yard run by Jones in the second quarter and an 82-yard scamper by Troy Ambush with just over a minute left in the game.
Jackson Heasley had a big game defensively for State College with three first-half sacks. He left with a second-half injury, but Lintal said the linebacker was ready to return to the game if needed.