High School Sports

State High football is 6-0 with its toughest stretch ahead. Here’s how it’s preparing

The 6-0 State College Little Lions take everything week-by-week, one game at a time. But even they’ll admit they’ve had their upcoming two-game stretch marked down on their calendars.

“These are the two teams that are competing for the top spot in the Mid Penn (Conference) every year with us,” senior quarterback Brady Dorner said. “We know these are going to be big games. We’ve just got to be at 100%, and play every play like it’s our last.”

The Little Lions are set to take on the Harrisburg Cougars at 7 p.m. Friday and the Central Dauphin Rams at 7 p.m. Oct. 11. Harrisburg was the PIAA runner-up in Class 6A last year, and Central Dauphin advanced to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs before falling to Harrisburg, 16-6. Both games will be at home at the South Track for State College.

Last week, the Rams upset the Cougars 15-14 in a game that ended in controversy and confusion over the game clock. With the loss, then-No. 4 Harrisburg fell to No. 10 in PennLive’s weekly statewide rankings, while State College moved up a spot to No. 5. State College and Central Dauphin sit atop the Mid Penn Conference standings, with three wins apiece.

Adding to the pressure for State High is last week’s announcement that the Little Lions’ regular-season finale against Cumberland Valley will be played at Penn State’s Beaver Stadium. Dorner knows that the looming Senior Day game in Beaver Stadium is lingering in his and his teammates’ minds, but is determined to stay focused on the task at hand.

“We’re pretty excited about Beaver Stadium and all of the other games we have this year,” he said. “But we just have to go 1-0 each week.”

While the team’s quarterback knows it’s easy to get caught looking ahead, he’s all-in on State College head coach Matt Lintal’s moment-by-moment mindset. Dorner said Lintal instilled that mentality in him, but he’s heard it from plenty of other successful coaches and players as he grew up.

“He’s instilled it in us,” Dorner said, “but we’ve learned (the mentality) coming up through here, looking up to what other people say. (We’re) watching TV, watching the best players in the world say they have to go 1-0 each week.”

The “1-0” phrase is one oft repeated by Nittany Lions’ coach James Franklin.

Lintal’s mindset has kept the team on track as they remain undefeated through six weeks, having knocked off New Jersey powerhouse St. Augustine Prep, as well as in-state foes Mifflin County, Hollidaysburg, Chambersburg, Carlisle and Central Dauphin East. He knows they’ll have to maintain that mindset heading into Friday’s matchup with Harrisburg.

“We’re excited (for the next two weeks) but we’re focusing on Harrisburg right now,” Lintal said. “They’ve got a great football team and they’ve played tremendous competition throughout the year. We’re prepared for this. We’re excited for the opportunity and the challenge. We want to make sure we’re primed and ready to go.”

In order to do that, Lintal will need his senior quarterback to be at his best. Dorner has been a key cog in the Little Lions’ offense this season thanks to his ability to beat a defense with his arm and his legs. He’s completed 54-of-80 pass attempts for 929 yards and six touchdowns, while amassing 275 yards and six touchdowns on 53 carries, according to MaxPreps.

Defensively, the team relies on senior defensive end Kevin Kurzinger to set the tone. The senior leader has three sacks on the season, according to MaxPreps, and helps keep his teammates in the moment every week. Kurzinger said he’s expecting to get the Cougars’ best come Friday night.

“We’re expecting them to come out be ready for a dogfight,” he said. “We’ve just got to play our game and hopefully everything goes our way.”

The senior defensive end knows Harrisburg will be bringing their best effort come Friday night, and he knows his team will be ready thanks to Lintal’s team mindset and their preparedness.

“We just take it one week at a time,” Kurzinger said. “We have to go 1-0 each week. We’ve got to practice our hardest every day, thinking about our competition that week, and not thinking ahead. If we think ahead, that’ll (change our focus) and put us in a bad position for the game.”

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Jon Sauber earned his B.A. in digital and print journalism from Penn State and his M.A. in sports journalism from IUPUI. His previous stops include jobs at The Indianapolis Star, the NCAA, and Rivals.