LEWISTOWN - Two weeks ago the Mifflin County football team was dead in the water. Chum for the bigger fish to nibble on.
The Huskies were in the throes of a six-game losing streak heading into the Districts 6-9 Class AAAA tournament and many already had written them off.
Part of the beauty of football, especially in high school, is its unpredictability. From week to week, you never know what might happen.
In the case of Mifflin County, last Friday night was a rebirth of sorts.
On the road, facing a State College team that already owned a victory against them, the Huskies righted the ship and got this roller-coaster ride of a season back on a high point.
Led by the rugged, tough running of Heath Hidlay (155 yards, four TDs), Mifflin County avenged its loss with a 27-26 victory over the Little Lions in a hard-fought road win and a berth in the district finals.
"It was a tremendous atmosphere. It was a great showing for our kids. They played extremely well under pressure, they never folded," Mifflin County coach George Miskinis said. "It's very difficult to win on the road, so this was a great win. Hats off to our seniors. They decided a long time ago their goal is to win a district title and they are one win away from accomplishing that goal."
Standing in the way of the first ever district championship for the three-year old program is DuBois, a squad the Huskies met back in August to kick off the 2013 season.
In that game, Mifflin County held the Beavers to just 142 total yards to gain the 21-17 victory. Much has changed since then and Miskinis knows both teams are back at square one for this contest, which kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. at Mansion Park in Altoona.
"Our players are looking forward to the challenge. You have to take them one game at a time and you wipe the records clean," Miskinis said. "DuBois was fortunate to have the bye last week. They could set there, re-group, study both teams and try to prepare and work out all the issues and little things that happen during the season. They are probably going to have a few tricks up their sleeve we haven't seen yet."
DuBois (6-4) has a potent offense that averages 45 points and 450 yards per game.
Leading the way is quarterback Gabe French. The junior is 161-for-245 passing for 2,509 yards and 26 touchdowns. French's favorite targets are juniors Bryson Paulinellie (64-1,190, 15 TDs) and Cole Kriner (31-363, four TDs). Junior running back Devin Clark (165-1,168, 21 TDs) is also a threat.
The Huskies held French to 99 yards through the air, with two picks, in the opener. The defense needs a repeat performance for Mifflin County to leave Mansion Park with the same result.
"They are very explosive and want to get in a run-and-gun game and play basketball on grass," Miskinis said. "We have to control them. I don't know if you can ever completely stop the spread offense. Most of the time they stop themselves with a dropped pass or something out of their ordinary realm. What we have to do is keep those passing yards after a catch to a minimum and not give up the big play. We have to eliminate turnovers and prevent any mistakes on special teams."
He looked back to the first meeting, 11 weeks ago, and all the change since then.
"Defensively, they have changed somewhat. When we first played them, DuBois ran a 4-3 defense. As the season evolved they actually played a 4-4 defense and one game they actually played a 3-3 stack defense, so this game could be very different from the first one," Miskinis said.
Mifflin County (5-6) hopes to get another strong outing from Hidlay, who had the best game of his career last week. The senior has 1,065 yards on the season with 16 touchdowns. Senior Kyle Kahley (80-417, five TDs) is another threat in a deep Husky backfield. If the Huskies can establish their running game as they did last week, it will be a long night for the Beavers.
When Mifflin County takes to the air, John Michael Maclay (20-353, four TDs) and tight end Curtis Jerzerick (15-474, five TDs) are the featured targets of quarterbacks Hunter Walker (453 yards, three TDs) and Brice Christine (541 yards, six TDs). Maclay also leads the team with seven interceptions. Junior Jesse Rodgers has eight and a half sacks, five tackles for loss and 58 tackles to lead the defensive line.
"I really believe we are back to where we should be offensively," Miskinis said. "We sustained blocks. We got to the second level quite a few times (against State College) and that opens up the running game. If we can't execute and get to that second level, they load up the box and it becomes a little more difficult. We are able to compliment that by throwing the ball out wide at times, so I think that helps us out also."
Mifflin County has a chance to join the 2002 and 2007 Indian Valley Warriors as the only county teams to win a district championship. The late 1950s Lewistown and early '60s Chief Logan squads likely would have been champions as well, but district playoffs didn't start until 1985 and state playoffs came along in 1988.
Regardless, the Huskies are dancing in rarefied air for a team from Mifflin County. The significance is not lost on Miskinis.
"The 2002 team, my son, Greg, has a medal for that," Miskinis said. "This is one of those situations where it's exciting for everybody.
"We are looking forward to the challenge and coming back with a win."