The State College Little Lions know what they’re up against Friday night.
They know their opponent, Pittsburgh Central Catholic, is talented. They know what major college programs the Vikings’ top players have fielded scholarship offers from. They know Central Catholic’s defense boasts eight players being recruited by Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
The Little Lions (9-3) know they’re the underdog going into their PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal matchup with the Vikings (12-1) at 7 p.m. at Fox Chapel High School.
“There’s probably not a lot of folks that are gonna pick us in this one,” State College coach Matt Lintal said. “But our kids are gonna go out and play together and do everything they can to create opportunities.”
It will be the eighth time since 2003 that State College has met the District 7 champion in the state playoffs. The Little Lions have gone 1-6 in those games, with the lone win coming in 2009 when they beat Woodland Hills in the quarterfinals on their way to an appearance in the state championship game. Last season, State College fell 49-29 to District 7 champion Pine-Richland in the quarterfinals.
Lintal said he’s focused on getting his players to believe they can compete with Central Catholic.
They’ve read about the Vikings’ star players and know Central Catholic is the favorite.
Central Catholic’s vaunted defense includes three players who are rated four-star recruits by 247Sports.
Senior cornerback Damar Hamlin has offers from Penn State, Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, among others. Linebacker David Adams is ranked the No. 2 inside linebacker in the country in the Class of 2017 and has offers from Penn State, Stanford and Notre Dame, among others. C.J. Thorpe, a four-star junior offensive guard, has a list of offers that includes Penn State, Pittsburgh, Auburn and Tennessee.
They’re among six players on the defense with offers from Power 5 schools.
“We’ve watched a ton of tape,” Lintal said. “There’s not a lot of weak spots on their defense, especially. They’re a very talented group.”
Central Catholic’s defense has been complemented by an efficient offense.
Senior running back Ronnie Jones, a Toledo commit who also plays defensive back, leads the team in rushing with 1,551 yards. Quarterback Troy Fisher has thrown for 14 touchdowns and no interceptions and rushed for 574 yards.
State College has been preparing for the state’s best teams all year.
The Little Lions played defending state champion St. Joseph’s Prep in a preseason scrimmage, giving the defense a chance to face D’Andre Swift, the top-ranked running back in the nation in the Class of 2017 by 247Sports.
“Everybody else throughout the year looks a little bit slower than that, so that helped give our kids some confidence because we played really well in that scrimmage,” Lintal said. “Our kids knew coming out of that that we could play with anybody.”
The Little Lions enjoyed a strong regular season, earning a share of the Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth division title for the first time since 2009.
Their co-champions, Central Dauphin and Cumberland Valley, are playing for District 3 championship Saturday night. The winner advances to face the winner of the State College-Central Catholic matchup in the PIAA semifinals.
The Little Lions set their sights on a run at the state title before the season.
They’ll now have to go through one of the state’s best teams to keep that dream alive.
And they’ve played well as a team, getting contributions from different players at crucial moments, to reach this point on a six-game winning streak.
“We’ve got a great opponent,” Lintal said. “But I think we got a pretty good team ourselves.”
PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals
Who: State College (9-3) vs. Pittsburgh Central Catholic (12-1)
Where: Fox Chapel High School
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Radio: WQWK 1450