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PIAA “AAAA” State Championship – State College Preview

Written by: on Thursday, December 17th, 2009


A pregame conversation with Cumberland Valley head coach Tim Rimpfel before Saturday’s “AAAA” Western Final revealed just how much parity there was within the Mid-Penn Conference this season.

State College had lost to Central Dauphin and Bishop McDevitt in the regular season. Cumberland Valley had lost to State College and Central Dauphin. State College barely defeated Central Dauphin East in a rare Sunday game, trailing 3-0 for three quarters. Cumberland Valley then shocked favored Bishop McDevitt in the D3 title game, setting up a Week 2 rematch with State College in Altoona, which SC won easily.Are you sure you got all that?

When the dust finally settled on the western half of the “AAAA” playoff bracket, there was no WPIAL rep in the state finals for the first time in the history of the “AAAA” playoffs. It was the team that knocked out Woodland Hills, State College, who emerged from the scrum the victor, and the Little Lions are now playing on the state’s big stage.

State College (12-2) faces LaSalle College (13-1) Saturday night in Hersheypark Stadium for the “AAAA” state championship game, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m.

The Lions making history with this appearance in the state finals. For starters, this is District 6’s first ever berth in the “AAAA” championship game. Of all the districts with a “AAAA” school in them, only Districts 2, 4, 8, and 9 have never been represented in a PIAA state championship game.

District 6 big schools, “AAA” and “AAAA,” had never won a PIAA semi-final game before last weekend. Between the two classes, District 6 reps were 0-8 and had been outscored by a combined total of 246-76. D6’s two “AAA” semi-final reps, Lock Haven in 1992 and Huntingdon in 1998, failed to score a point.

The average margin of defeat for D6 teams in those games was 21.25 points. State College’s margin of victory against Cumberland Valley Saturday afternoon: 22. Only fitting, huh?

After the Lions’ victory against Cumberland Valley and Bishop McCort’s semi-final win against Tri-Valley, District 6’s record in PIAA semi-finals balloons to 6-21 overall. While the winning percentage isn’t great (just .222), consider that before last weekend, D6’s winning percentage at this juncture was just .160.

While semi-final victories have been hard to come by in D6, state titles are even tougher. In the districts’ four PIAA title appearances to date, only the 1999 Tyrone Golden Eagles won gold. Tyrone defeated Mount Carmel, 13-6, on a late 93-yard touchdown run. In state title games, D6 has been outscored 100-53 (25-13 average score).

State College enters this title fray running an option offense that has averaged a hair over 32 points per game. The Lions love to spread the ball around, and while their main threat is super-speedster Alex Kenney, the Lions have many different backs with different styles to give defenses headaches.

The aforementioned Kenney, a Penn State commit, has run for over 1,100 yards and has scored a total of 25 touchdowns this season, 20 rushing. Kenney is also the Little Lions’ leading receiver, and he had himself quite a game against CV, hauling in two passes for 132 yards and a touchdown, and adding nine carries for 49 yards. Kenney leads the team in interceptions, and is also a special teams threat, returning kickoffs and punts.

Other State College backs that factor into the equation include Matt Mazzarra (785 yards, 7 TD), Dom Mills (409 yards, 5 TD), Colby Way (356 yards, 4 TD), Jamal Albro (350 yards, TD), and Byron Schmidt (289 yards, 2 TD). All told, State High’s ground game accounts for an average of nearly 259 yards per game.

The Lions do not pass the ball much, but when they do, they can be effective. Both Mills and Mazzarra have taken snaps this season, and Mills leads the duo in passing yardage, with 595 yards and five touchdowns. Mills was a perfect 6-for-6 in the Cumberland Valley game for 171 yards and a touchdown.

Mazzarra went 1-of-1 for 10 yards and a touchdown against CV, completing the pass on a faked field goal in the third quarter. Mazzarra, recall, was thought lost for a good while after being injured in the Woodland Hills game with a dislocated shoulder. Mazzarra’s thrown for 377 yards and a trio of scores.

State College’s out-of-whack stat, if it can be considered one, is its low turnover margin, only a +4. SC has 22 giveways (13 fumbles, 9 INTs) and 26 takeaways (17 INTs, 9 fumble recoveries). That’s a fairly underwhelming stat for a state title game representative.

Is State College going to continue making history this season? Or, will the Little Lions’ run of impressive victories end at the hands of PCL rep LaSalle? Can the Lions’ option system and athletes confound the Explorers’ defense?

Find out Saturday night.

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