Days, weeks and months have gone by. They’ve trained, practiced and played fives games already.
But this one has been circled on the Little Lions’ calendars for quite some time, and now, State College will get its shot.
The Little Lions (3-2, 2-0) host Central Dauphin (5-0, 2-0) on Friday at Memorial Field in a crucial Mid-Penn Conference clash, a game that carries significant weight in who might take the Commonwealth Division crown this season.
“If you’re going to win the conference, you’ve got to go through them to get there,” State College coach Matt Lintal said.
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That won’t be easy.
Central Dauphin, for the most part, has been dominant halfway through the regular season, outscoring opponents 185-65. It’s been even more lopsided the past couple weeks. The Rams defeated Chambersburg and Harrisburg by scores of 42-7 and 50-6, respectively.
But State College players believe they can compete with Central Dauphin. Coming off three consecutive wins and owning an unblemished record at home, the Little Lions are playing within themselves, and doing so confidently.
Lintal thinks that’s the key for the Little Lions: control what they can control. The coach said since State College’s preseason scrimmage against St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia), the players are convinced they can hang with anyone — even Central Dauphin, the No. 1 ranked team in Pennsylvania according to MaxPreps.com, and No. 3 in Class AAAA in the Pennlive.com weekly poll.
“Our kids have bought into that,” Lintal said. “They realized it has less to do about your opponent, and more to do about yourself.”
In terms of gameplanning for Central Dauphin, it’s difficult to scheme around talent. That’s what the Little Lions will have to do offensively against an imposing defensive front boasting two of the state’s best players.
Central Dauphin defensive end Micah Parsons and tackle A.J. Perez have been terrors for opposing offenses, and their disruptive abilities will challenge State College’s front five and running back Jordan Misher.
“Physically, they’re strong and they just run so darn well,” Lintal said of the duo. “They can create havoc if given the opportunity. We have to find ways to control them, control their eyes and try to mix things up and take them out of the game as best we can.”
That’ll likely start with Misher, who has rushed for at least 100 yards in each of State College’s five games this season. With 787 yards and 13 touchdowns to his name, he’s the Little Lions’ go-to guy.
But State College will deploy other offensive options, too, whether it’s some jet sweeps to wide receiver Kellin Valentine or letting quarterback Tyler Snyder air it out.
Whatever gets the ball into the end zone.
“Every time you touch the football, it has to mean something,” Lintal said.
That’s especially the case against Central Dauphin, considering its offense is no slouch, either.
The Rams have averaged 37 points per game, but it’s really how they score that can debilitate a defense. Central Dauphin has rushed for 20 touchdowns and 1,273 yards this season, led by Raleigh Sirb’s 10 touchdowns and 7.5 yards per carry.
However, Central Dauphin has played its two closest games of the year on the road. The Rams muscled wins at Susquehanna Township (31-21) and Wilson (20-19) earlier in the season. As amped as the Little Lions are to play the Rams, their classmates will likely return the favor with an electric student section.
State College will have to take care of things on the field, whether it’s Central Dauphin’s defensive front or rushing attack. But could a home field advantage provide the Little Lions a boost?
It certainly can’t hurt.
“We’re glad that it’s at our place,” Lintal said. “No doubt about it.”