STATE COLLEGE — From the sideline, State College called its final timeout as coach Al Wolski rallied his offense at a frigid, rain-drenched Memorial Field.
With less than 1:30 left on the clock, Wolski wanted to make sure the Little Lions were ready to showcase their rapid-strike capabilities one last time. But the Little Lions wouldn’t get the chance to hustle their hurry-up offense down the field as Cumberland Valley’s Corey Johnson lunged forward for nine yards on third-and-seven to gain a fresh set of downs and seal the Eagles’ 17-14 win in the final regular season game of the season.
Both teams will move on to the District 6/9 Class AAAA playoffs.
“Kids threw the ball well, kept their poise and coaches did a good job with playcalling,” Wolski said of a late scoring drive that cut Cumberland Valley’s lead to three points. “We wanted one more shot at it, I wish we could’ve held them there. We had a couple of chances on third down and weren’t able to do it. If we could’ve gotten the ball back we might’ve been in pretty decent shape there.”
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Down 10-7 at halftime after Garrett Long booted a 36-yard field goal and Jeremy Salman hauled in a short pass and bulled 41 yards into the end zone for the Eagles, State College’s offense found a rhythm early in the third quarter.
The Little Lions (7-3, 4-3) opened the second half with a 12-play drive that gained much of its thrust from running back Ryan Goeke and quarterback Patrick Irwin who ripped off runs of 18, 18 15 and 14 yards. Eventually, the drive turned up no points as kicker Ian Fennessey missed a 31-yard field goal.
“It looked pretty good from our angle,” Wolski said of the kick that sailed high over the right upright. “(The referees) had a better shot at it, I guess.”
The Eagles, who started quickly in the first half running a modified hurry-up offense, wasted little time when they got the ball back at their own 20. With five plays, all runs, Cumberland Valley crossed midfield before quarterback Ben Fernback slung a 49-yard touchdown pass to Long who beat State College cornerback Anthony Mishler to put the Eagles up 17-7.
“I think we had them on their heels a little bit,” Cumberland Valley coach Tim Rimpfel said. “But they adjusted because their a good team, well-coached and you know you’re going to get a ballgame when you’re playing up here.”
The Little Lions would uphold that reputation.
After turning the ball over on downs after an 11-play drive carried into the fourth quarter, the Little Lions came up with a defensive stop on Cumberland Valley’s next possession. Irwin took over, methodically moving his teammates to the line without a huddle as seconds ticked away.
The junior signal caller hooked up with senior receiver Andrew Kelly three times for 39 yards on the drive after senior Darian Herncane started it off by hauling in an 11-yard pass on first down. Senior Dan Fry finished the drive. Fry, who caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Irwin in the second quarter, got his second of the night when he snagged a short pass from Irwin and cut around the Cumberland Valley defense for the 13-yard score with 3:48 left.
As soon as Fry’s score got State College fans on their feet, Cumberland Valley running back Tyler Updegraff silenced them once again. After a false start penalty, Updegraff got the penalty yards back and then some with a 36-yard run, breaking tackle after tackle.
Updegraff finished with 107 yards to lead all rushers while the bruising running of Salmon gained 87 for Cumberland Valley. Irwin led State College with 80 rushing yards and added 139 through the air. Goeke finished with 79 yards on 15 carries.
“That’s the thing. He’s a big, strong kid and he’s tough to tackle,” Wolski said of Salmon. “You’ve got to bring him down low and we weren’t able to do that at times and he was able to pick up four or five yards at a clip.”
State College used its second timeout two plays later with the Eagles facing a third-and-seven, but Johnson’s run and the fresh set of downs that came with it sealed the Little Lions’ loss.
Both teams will find out on Sunday who they will play in the first round of the playoffs.
“We felt that if we were 7-3, 8-2, that was going to be a pretty decent year,” Wolski said. “7-3 is okay for this part of the season now we’re getting ready to see how long we can keep this thing going.”