State College and Erie McDowell met in the first round of the PIAA playoffs last year.
They’re set for a rematch at the same venue Saturday.
But when they meet in a Class AAAA matchup at 1 p.m. at Clarion University, the Little Lions (8-3) know they’ll be facing a different McDowell (7-5) team than the one they beat last year.
The 2014 Trojans, led by senior quarterback Jake Tarasovitch, aimed to pound opponents with their running game. Tarasovitch was a 1,000-yard rusher, leading an offense that piled up more than 2,000 yards on the ground going into that playoff game against State College. The Little Lions limited McDowell to 22 yards rushing on 19 carries, part of a stout defensive performance in a 27-6 win.
“Now they really trust their quarterback to hurt you both in the run game and in the pass game,” State College coach Matt Lintal said.
The quarterback is Levi Becker.
Becker has thrown for more than 2,000 yards to go with 20 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He was 10 for 19 for 190 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 42-2 win over Brashear in the District 8-10 final last week.
State College got a glimpse of Becker during that state playoff game last year.
Becker connected on a 27-yard touchdown pass to account for McDowell’s lone score with just more than three minutes.
This year, he’ll be starting.
And State College will see a different offense surrounding him as Lintal said the Trojans line up in more four- and five-wide receiver sets. They aim to spread the ball around — six receivers have at least 15 catches. And Becker is a threat to run, leading the team with 390 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.
“He’s big, he’s athletic, he runs the ball himself, and he takes what the defense gives him,” Lintal said. “Real credit to their coaching staff for being able to build things around their personnel.”
State College has used the same formula for success this season, relying on its running game and defense.
The Little Lions used that combination to earn a share of the Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth division title, and they’ve been dominant during a five-game winning streak. In the past four games, State College has held each of its opponents to seven points.
With a week off after beating DuBois 41-7 in the District 6-9 final, the Little Lions also had time to get healthy.
Quarterback Tyler Snyder and running back Jordan Misher have both battled injuries late in the season. Snyder went out with an injury in the regular season finale against Mifflin County and did not play against DuBois. Misher also suffered an injury against Mifflin County and got hurt again after scoring a touchdown on the first drive in the win over DuBois.
Lintal said both will play Saturday.
Misher has rushed for 1,369 yards and 21 touchdowns this season.
He powered the offense, getting 33 carries and scoring two touchdowns, in the win over McDowell a year ago.
Lintal is hoping for another complete performance in the rematch.
“You got to play good football in every facet of the game,” Lintal said. “And if you do that, you put yourself with a chance to keep playing more football.”