Who needs bleachers filled with fans, marching bands inside the stadium and amenities such as a press box and restrooms to produce a classic football game?
State College quarterback Patrick Irwin tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Dan Fry on the game's final play as the Little Lions edged Chambersburg 30-28 on Friday at half-filled Memorial Field.
The pass capped a six-play, 77-yard drive that took just 41 seconds.
“It was a crazy way to the end”— the game,” Irwin said.
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The touchdown was one of two in the final minute.
Chambersburg's Jamal Pickett flipped a screen pass into a 97-yard touchdown with 41 seconds left to set up the wild finale. Pickett dashed through and past multiple Little Lions, including Fry.
“I had just missed one tackle to let the big play happen,” Fry said. “I was a little down. But I knew I had to keep in it. When I caught that ball, it was just incredible.”
Irwin, who suffered a shoulder injury in the second half, completed 3 of 6 passes on the final drive, connecting on consecutive passes to Andrew Kelly to move the ball into Chambersburg territory with less than 20 seconds remaining. A 15-yard personal foul penalty moved the ball to the Trojan 21-yard line with 13 seconds left.
After two incompletions, Irwin scanned the middle of the field, saw no open receivers, rolled right and fired a low pass that Fry corralled between two defenders at the goal line. The entire State College bench instantly stormed the field. The victory snapped a two-game losing streak that included lopsided losses to Mid-Penn heavyweights Harrisburg and Central Dauphin.
“You can't say one team had any more heart than the other,” said State College coach Al Wolski, whose team improved to 4-2. “Both teams had heart.”
The loss was the third straight for Chambersburg (3-3), which was agonizingly close to notching its first-ever victory over State College. The Trojans are 0-8 against the Little Lions.
“I hate it for the kids,” an emotional Chambersburg coach Mark Saunders said. “They played their hearts out. What can you say? You just have to come out and fight for another day. We will be all right. I love my team. We will be OK.”
An odd scene served as the backdrop for the thrilling ending.
State College played in its aging stadium despite the discovery of sinkhole that closed the entire home bleachers. Fans from both teams sat on the visitors' side. The bands stood in Sidney Freeman Park, a quaint greenspace beyond the north end zone.
The press box rests atop the home bleachers, forcing assistant coaches to analyze plays and communicate with their respective head coaches from cranes. Two radio stations broadcasting the game set up tables above a 10-foot stone wall along the 25-yard line.
It hasn't been determined whether Friday marked the final the game at a field that has represented the high school home of numerous NFL and Division I players. The Little Lions have two home games remaining: Oct. 26 against Mifflin County and Nov. 2 against Cumberland Valley.
State College players and coaches posed for a team photo after the postgame handshake just in case they never play on the field again. Wolski said he wants to play the Huskies and Eagles as scheduled at Memorial Field.
“I hope we are here for two more games this year,” he said. “It worked. You can print this. There's no reason not to play the final two home games here. It worked tonight. The sinkhole isn't getting any bigger.”
The three-hour game included five lead changes, with the Trojans leading 14-13 at halftime and 21-13 entering the fourth quarter. Kelly's 10-yard run gave State College a 24-21 lead with 5:04 left.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Pickett caused major problems for State College, gaining 169 yards on 20 carries and grabbing four passes for 111 yards. Pickett scored four touchdowns. His first touchdown came when he scooped up teammate Zane Stewart's fumble and raced 58 yards early in the second quarter.
Ebrahim Britton led State College with 112 rushing yards on 12 carries and scored on a 4-yard run less than seven minutes into the game. Kelly replaced Irwin at quarterback and led State College on two scoring drives in the fourth.
Wolski said earlier this week that the Little Lions and Trojans were the two most evenly-matched teams he had examined in his coaching career. The statistics proved his point, as State College outgained Chambersburg 454-402 and held a 22-18 edge in first downs. Chambersburg outrushed State College 252-245.
Irwin completed 10 of 18 passes for 209 yards.
“This is an exciting win and one you build momentum on,” Wolski said. “It gives you confidence. If you are in that situation and you can come back. ...It's not going to happen every time. But it shows a lot of character and a lot determination and that never-give-up attitude that we want our kids to have now and have later in life, too.”
Jordan Brown added 82 yards on 12 carries, Mike Martin completed 9 of 15 passes for 150 yards and Kellen Williams intercepted two passes for the Trojans.
“We made the plays,” Saunders said. “We just didn't make the plays when we needed to.”