It was an impossibly frustrating situation to end an impossibly frustrating game.
Down three points to Central Dauphin with 40 seconds remaining, the State College High football team faced fourth-and-34 from its own two-yard line.
“I didn’t know what to call,” State College head coach Matt Lintal admitted. “When you have your back against the wall you just want to put some confidence in [your players] because you’ve got nothing to lose.”
There would be no miracle for the Little Lions. John Weakland’s desperation pass was intercepted by Jordan Hatcher and State College fell to 3-3 in a disappointing 10-7 loss to a division rival.
In a contest filled with sloppy plays, penalties (12 combined false starts) and missed opportunities, the Little Lions had plenty of chances to blow the game open against the Rams yet couldn’t take advantage after scoring on their opening drive of the game.
“The penalties were killer on both sides of the ball,” Lintal said. “We made it a point of emphasis throughout the week and clearly we need to make it an emphasis throughout next week."
On a night in which very few things went right offensively, State College dodged a bullet on its first drive with a dose of luck.
With the Little Lions facing third and 11 on Central Dauphin’s 17-yard-line, Weakland forced a pass toward receiver Chris McDonough, who was blanketed by Rams defensive back Gary Gaston.
Gaston leaped in front of the pass for the interception, yet the ball somehow went through his hands and into the arms of McDonough, who fell into the end zone for a touchdown and a 7-0 State College lead.
From that point on, the game would turn into a defensive battle, with neither offense able to do much of anything.
“I thought we’d be able to put some more points on the board,” Lintal said. “Our offensive line started the game well, and we saw that for periods of the game. We just didn’t finish.”
Following Weakland’s touchdown pass, the Rams marched to the State College six-yard line on a drive highlighted by a 25-yard run by Raleigh Sirb. The drive stalled and Central Dauphin had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Jacob Kerschner.
Although a quick State College three-and-out would give the ball right back to Central Dauphin, the Little Lions’ defense would come up big again, stopping the Rams’ drive at the State College 34-yard line and forcing another punt.
The rest of the first half would feature a plethora of miscues, including a botched fake punt attempt by State College and fumbles from both teams in the final two minutes, sending the game into halftime with State College leading 7-3.
On the opening drive of the second half, the game would turn in Central Dauphin’s favor. After driving to the Rams’ 7-yard line, the Little Lions failed to punch it in and had their ensuing 24-yard field goal attempt blocked.
“That was a big shift in the momentum,” Lintal said. “We moved the ball and had a great drive and then we don’t convert. We left a lot of opportunities on the field."
Two drives later, Sirb would give Central Dauphin the only score it would need, breaking off a 51-yard touchdown run in what would be the final score of the game.
“When one guy gets out of position, that's what he can do,” Lintal said. “He’s a dangerous back and a heck of a football player.”
As their offense continued to sputter in the fourth quarter, the Little Lions still got strong play from their defense, which blocked a 31-yard kick following a 49-yard run from Sirb. They also forced a Rams’ punt with 3:15 remaining to give their offense one final chance.
“To hold this team to 10 points, I really thought we would need 28 to win today,” Lintal said. “If things work out differently and if we make another play here or there we could of [won].”
The Little Lions return home next Friday when they take on Harrisburg at 7 p.m.