STATE COLLEGE - It doesn't matter what the level is, or the sport for that matter. Turnovers are costly.
Mifflin County was a first-hand witness of this Friday when it traveled to State College for the Seven Mountains Showdown. The Huskies outplayed, outfought and straight up should have won the ball game.
But four interceptions forced by State College's defense and two lost fumbles put the Huskies in a precarious situation.
Sentinel photo by STEVE?MANUEL
Mifflin County’s Curtis Jerzerick (11) stretches the ball across the goal line after catching a pass as State College’s Anthony Misher looks on during Friday’s Commonwealth Division football game in State College.
And though another comeback bid was beginning to turn Mifflin County's favor late in the second half, the Huskies fell victim to the Little Lions, 20-13, in the Mid-Penn Commonwealth Division matchup.
The stat sheet shows Mifflin County winning. But unfortunately for the locals, that's not what it said on the Memorial Field scoreboard at the final buzzer.
"We were moving the football and literally shooting ourselves in the foot," Mifflin County coach George Miskinis said. "We did everything we had to do tonight to win the football game."
IF YOU GO
* Mifflin County travels to Chambersburg Nov. 2
In the first half, the Little Lions converted a fourth down on a fake punt by Dan Fry and a 93-yard interception returned for a touchdown by Darian Herncane. The fake punt led to a score. Right there, that's the game.
The Huskies (4-5, 2-4) outgained Sate College by more than 100 yards. The Little Lions had no answer for Mifflin County tight end Curtis Jerzerick and full back Kyle Kahley. And yet, State College still came out on top.
Jerzerick finished with five grabs for 101 yards and a score, while Kahley rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
"I told the kids after that we can't have six turnovers and win," Miskinis said. "The bottom line is there were a couple really crucial plays."
And with a couple crucial plays, turnovers will be the Achilles heel of any team.
On the first possession of the game, Mifflin County forced a three-and-out. Then, the Huskies went two plays before quarterback Shane Whalen threw the first of his four interceptions. Whalen had missed the last two game due to an injury, but played well for the most part.
Three plays later, Little Lions quarterback Pat Irwin found Jake Knouse for an 11-yard touchdown. That was seven points off turnovers.
Mifflin County seemed to be able to drive the ball from the time it stepped off the bus. The Huskies answered the first score from State College with a 10-play, 69-yard drive, capped off by a Kahley touchdown run.
And it looked as if Mifflin County's defense would take over. The Huskies held strong on the first play of the second quarter on a fourth-and-8 deep in their own territory to get the ball back. They proceeded to drive 80 yards inside State College territory. But then the turning point happened.
And yes, it was a turnover.
Whalen rolled to his left and threw back across his body and Herncane was waiting for it. He went 93 yards without being touched to give State College a 13-6 lead. The PAT was no good. That was 13 points off turnovers.
But the Huskies went right back to work. After a 42-yard pitch and catch from Whalen to John Michael Maclay, the Huskies were at the State College 28. On the next play, however, Kahley fumbled.
Mifflin County's defense did its thing following the fumble. But on a fourth-and-13, Fry, State College's punter, scampered 42 yards on the fake punt and a Little Lion first down. That set up a 13-yard run by Irwin as time expired in the first half to give State College a 20-6 lead. That was 20 points off turnovers.
But Jerzerick and the Huskies came back on to the field with their heads high. Almost expecting a comeback.
The Huskies found something special throughout the game. Jerzerick, who hasn't been targeted frequently this season, began having his way with the State College defense. He had catches of 32, 30, 15 and 16 yards.
"The safety was playing over," he said. "That left me wide open on and it was a dump pass and from there I can take it and run."
A promising drive to open the second half for Mifflin County turned sour when Whalen threw his third interception, this one to Ebrahim Britton. That drive went 70 yards before Whalen's pass was intercepted in the end zone on a fourth-and-8.
Mifflin County's defense got them the ball back again as the Little Lions' next drive was halted at their own 40.
With 1:44 left in the third quarter, the Huskies started. Whalen hit Jerzerick for 15 yards on second down and then Kahley ripped off 12 yards on the ground. Another 14 yards from Kahley and chunks of yardage from Tim Beck and Heath Hidlay set up a first down from the State College 16. Whalen hit Jerzerick on the dump pass and Jerzerick was able to get himself to the end zone. The score: State College 20, Mifflin County 13 with 11 minutes to play in the game.
"It was a finger-tip grab," Jerzerick said. "But I was (very) happy when I caught it."
The two teams traded turnovers on downs. That left State College with the ball and a chance to ice the game with 8:05 to play. But not so fast, the Mifflin County defense said. Irwin's pass on a fourth-and-12 was incomplete and the Huskies took over at their own 26.
The Huskies had nearly four minutes to work with.
Whalen started the drive with an 11-yard run and a first down. Two plays later he hit Jerzerick again, this time for seven yards. Kahley then drove himself up the middle for two yards, a yard short of the first down.
On a fourth-and-1 from the Huskies' 46, Kahley bounced one outside and went 17 yards for a first down all the way down to the State College 37. But following a negative play, Whalen dropped back and looked for Jerzerick. He threw into triple coverage and Herncane was waiting for it.
"I thought Shane threw the ball well," Miskinis said. "The last pick I said, 'I thought you were throwing it out of bounds.' He said, 'I tried and I couldn't step to throw.'"
The Huskies now face a tough situation. A win over State College would have guaranteed a spot in the District 6 Class AAAA playoffs. Now, Mifflin County must travel to Chambersburg and get a win to qualify.
"Our kids left it all on the field," Miskinis said. "The sad part is now it turns into a must-win game for us next week."
Jerzerick and the Huskies know they are getting better. And while the Mid-Penn continues to show quality football teams, Mifflin County is hanging right in there.
"Beginning of the season people were telling us that we were not going to win a game in the Mid-Penn and we just drove off that," Jerzerick said. "We got better every week. It's sad for this game. But we'll get Chambersburg next week."