Isaiah Edwards raced 61 yards to his first varsity touchdown back in mid-September, during State College’s decisive victory over Hollidaysburg. He added two more scores that night, including a 72-yard burst, and finished with 169 yards on just eight carries.
After the game, however, the sophomore running back knew who to thank.
“I know my linemen are going to do their job, my teammates are going to do their jobs,” he said that night, with huge openings giving him plenty of room to run.
Tristen Lyons knows, too, that he has had a lot of help to collect his team-leading 881 yards this season.
“The O-line, they bust their behinds in practice,” Lyons said after the Little Lions beat Central Dauphin East. “They do their job very well.”
The front five is a major reason the Little Lions (9-2) are still playing in the middle of November, preparing to meet Delaware Valley (12-0) in the PIAA Class 6A first round at 7 p.m. Friday at Danville High School.
The ground game has been impressive. State College has rolled up 2,745 yards, and Lyons leads five players with better than 200 rushing yards this year. As a team they average 7.7 yards per carry.
There have been a few injuries here and there, but a big reason they have become a consistent, cohesive unit is they have been together all season. Every play starts with a snap from center Collin Deboef (6-foot-6, 280 pounds), and he is joined up front by guards Adam Van Horn (5-10, 215) and Ramsey Kifolo (6-2, 308), and tackles Robert Nachtman (6-3, 300) and James Pone (6-5, 215). Jason Cameron (5-10, 200) has filled in on the line the last two games.
“It’s one of the most important positions on the field,” line coach Mark Baney said. “We’ve been able to take kids that maybe have played different positions and converted them, and they’ve bought into it. We’ve been blessed that way.”
One of those conversions is Pone, a junior who used to be a tight end.
The experienced leaders, however, are the seniors, Deboef and Nachtman. Deboef knew the positions inside and out even before his first start, following in the footsteps of older brothers Jack, who played at Purdue, and Adam, who walked-on with Penn State. Collin Deboef also is well-versed in each spot along the line, filling in when necessary, like a couple weeks ago for Nachtman.
“We have a really good scheme, and it really makes sense to our kids,” Baney said. “They were able to pick it up really quick in the offseason, and the seniors like Collin and Robert, they pretty much know every position.”
The best moments, of course, are when everything works to perfection and someone in maroon and gray is sprinting toward the end zone — and the linemen are racing each other to join in the end zone festivities.
That’s become a common sight this fall. Lyons is averaging 8.0 yards per carry, and Edwards is averaging 10.5 yards each time he has the ball. Both also have 14 touchdowns apiece.
“When we see those high-yardage running games, it just feels great,” Nachtman said. “When (Lyons) breaks open, we all lost it with each other, and then we celebrate with him. We’re charging down the field faster than the wideouts. We’re just losing our minds.”
Said Deboef: “You have the self-pride knowing that you helped that play, but it’s always awesome to see your team do well in all facets of the game.”
Baney said the group is loose and confident, and the players said it helps to be friends who hang out away from the field and school, including getting their pregame meals together.
They are hungry for more success this fall — and to get in some more sprints down the field after more long touchdown runs.
“We’re the unsung heroes; we’re the best part of the team,” Pone said. “I really find pride in that. We come out, play, win the game, and it’s like, ‘Wow, we really did this.’”