DuBois came into Friday’s District 6-9 Class AAAA Football Championship with all of the gaudy statistics.
State College’s defense came away with the ball.
The Little Lions, fueled by Nathan King’s 79-yard fumble return for a touchdown, forced five turnovers as they shut down the high-flying Beavers 29-7 at Hollidaysburg High School. Jordan Misher rumbled for 190 yards and three scores as State College advanced in the state playoffs and will meet Saturday’s winner between Erie McDowell and Brashear next week.
The Little Lion defense frustrated DuBois quarterback Gabe French throughout the frigid night, especially in the red zone. French, who entered the game with 40 touchdown passes and eight interceptions, was picked off by Pete Haffner, Kellin Valentine and Stan Martin in State College territory.
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The Little Lions (5-6) also forced two fumbles. Barrett McMurtry and Lonnie Koudela each had two of State College’s six sacks.
The Beavers (8-3) entered the contest averaging nearly 50 points per game.
“We take a lot of pride,” King said of the Little Lions’ defensive effort. “It was a good team effort all-around.”
“Our kids played so hard,” said coach Matt Lintal, who also won a district title at State College as a player. “They played physical football. We have kids that want to make tackles and want to make big plays. We could see that out here tonight, not just up front, not just our linebackers, but our defensive backs, too.
“The turnover margin is the biggest indication of a victory.”
State College took control from the start. Misher’s 31-yard run helped set up Kevin Cramer’s 29-yard field goal on the Little Lions’ first possession.
Aided by a couple of State College penalties, the Beavers drove right back at the Little Lions, getting as close as the 2 before incurring a false start penalty.
Two plays later, Haffner picked off French in the left corner of the end zone to set the stage for several more big plays from the State College defense.
State College extended the lead in the second quarter on a nine-play 56-yard march. Quarterback John Weakland went 3 for 3 for 29 yards passing and Misher had 30 yards on four carries. Out of the Wildcat, Misher cruised in from the 3. A missed extra point made it 9-0 with 7:49 left in the half.
French had the Beavers driving on their next possession, but fumbled on a keeper around the left side and King scooped up the ball and ran untouched 79 yards for a score. Another missed extra point left the score at 15-0.
“I was just outside playing corner and Jon Seighman and Stan Martin popped it out,” King said. “It just rolled into my hands and then I’m gone. It was wide open.”
The Little Lions weren’t done. Weakland’s 21-yard strike to Joe DeSandre opened a 65-yard march. Misher capped it with a 22-yard burst around the right side, set up by three straight carries from other backs to the left. Noah Schwab’s extra point made it 22-0 with 3:07 left in the half.
Valentine picked off French on the next DuBois possession, but Dante Dawson returned the favor by intercepting Weakland and returning it 48 yards to the Little Lion 12.
The Beavers had a touchdown pass wiped out by a penalty. On the final play of the half, Dawson was stopped three yards short on a bubble screen to preserve the first-half shutout.
“That stop before halftime was just huge,” Lintal said. “They had about three or four plays inside the 5 and our kids stepped up big.”
French finally stung the Nittany Lion defense to start the third quarter. He found Kevin Foley all alone on the right sideline for a 38-yard touchdown pass to start the third quarter.
With its lead cut to 22-7, State College needed just two plays to respond. Weakland kept the ball on an option around the right side and raced 58 yards to the DuBois 21. Misher finished it off from there, racing 21 yards around the left side.
“He’s very powerful and very shifty,” DuBois coach Frank Varischetti said of Misher. “… He’s a good ballplayer. He’s powerful, tough to tackle and has great speed. “
Misher, who missed some time near the end of the regular season with a sprained ankle, had 24 carries and looked sharp. The Little Lions finished with 295 yards on 41 carries, while Weakland was 11 of 17 for 155 yards.
“We did a great job with the run,” Misher said. “The linemen did a great job and we just drove the ball down their throats.”
Martin would end another DuBois drive with an interception near the State College end zone. The linebacker was all over the field making tackles and had a sack.
“He is one of the best football players I’ve been around,” Lintal said. “He’s not the biggest, strongest or fastest, but darn I’ll take 11 of him.”
French finished 16 of 32 for 196 yards. The DuBois offense finished with 21 first downs.
“We made too many mental mistakes,” Varischetti said. “They did a good job of slowing us down. Things weren’t as easy for us as it has been all season but we left at least 35 points out there.
“They took away the big play and made us move the ball down the field which we didn’t struggle with. We moved the ball extremely well between the 20s. We just can’t make the mistakes we made inside the 20 and expect to win a district championship.”
State College players beamed as they received the title medals and are ready to make a tough regular season a distant memory.
“The regular season was a learning process,” King said. “Our team is just getting better and better. The postseason, we think it is our time to shine.”