DUBOIS - Mifflin County's first foray into the Sweet 16 quad-A state football playoffs turned out to be a bittersweet one in the end.
The speed and skill level of McDowell (Erie) was supposed to be too much for the Huskies to handle. Instead, the outcome was decided on the right foot of Ethan Stark and a big penalty on the Huskies in overtime.
When all was said and done, Mifflin County saw its season come to close on a frigid, blizzard-like Saturday night at Mansell Stadium with the Trojans coming away with a 16-10 overtime victory.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE?BOYER
Heath Hidlay, middle, is met by Dane Eberle, left and Jared Williams, right of McDowell (Erie), in a first-round state playoff game at DuBois High School Saturday.
McDowell improved to 7-5 on the year and will meet District 7 champion Pittsburgh Central Catholic, a 27-7 winner over Woodland Hills, in the quarterfinals next week. The Huskies end their season at 6-7.
"The thing is we never quit. We came out and set the tone early. We didn't give up and kept fighting through it," Miskinis said. "I tried to ice the kicker (Stark) at the end of regulation. I waited for a big gust of wind and it almost blew it short and wide. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get some key first downs to run out the clock and that gave them good field position. Hats off to our players. They play with the heart of a champion every week."
Leading 10-7 late in the game, Miskinis called two timeouts to freeze Stark, but to no avail. The Northwestern recruit was true from 36-yards out to tie the game with just 11 seconds to go and force overtime.
"I just thought the same things I always think before a kick," Stark said. "I think (Mifflin County) got lucky because the wind and the snow really picked up after they called that second timeout. But I knew I had to just hit it and I knew it was going through."
McDowell coach Mark Soboleski had no reservations on going for the field goal, even with swirling winds, some heavy snow, and temperatures at 12 degrees with a wind chill of five below.
"I knew his leg was strong enough to hit it, even when the wind kicked up the way it did like nobody's business," Soboleski said. "He's been solid for us all year long. That was a very difficult kick in horrible conditions, but he made it look easy. It gave us new life."
New life indeed.
Mifflin County was up first in overtime and a delay of game penalty on third down from the eight forced the Huskies to try a field goal from 35 yards. Andrew Traxler's kick was short, turning the ball over to McDowell.
"The delay of game penalty was costly but we had chances throughout the game to put it away and couldn't," Miskinis said. "Our guys played well though. We had a solid season, they played hard and I'm very proud of them."
Two plays later, Tyler Hammond bulled in from five yards out giving the victory to the Trojans.
"I knew we were going to score," Hammond said. "I had confidence in my offensive line. The last couple drives before that, we were getting some decent yards."
A brutal schedule and mental toughness, especially on defense, were the keys to victory according to Soboleski.
"We've had a taxing schedule. It's been a tough schedule, but it does prepare us for the playoffs," he said. "We knew Mifflin County would be physical and try to smack us in the mouth. They are a lot like us but they run a different offense. Our guys responded and stepped up to the challenge. I'm really proud of them."
McDowell coughed up the football on its first drive and an 11-play Mifflin County drive stalled at the five, forcing a Traxler 22-yard field goal, giving the Huskies a 3-0 lead with 5:21 left in the first quarter.
The Trojans turned the ball over on their next possession when Heath Hidlay intercepted a Jake Tarasovitch pass and returned it 22 yards to the McDowell 48. Unfortunately, Mifflin County couldn't capitalize and had to punt.
"It was critical," Miskinis said, when asked about not getting more points from the turnovers. "The second drive we couldn't string together two or three first downs to get field position. Then when we did have a nice drive going we hurt ourselves with penalties. That forced us to punt and with the wind, there is no telling where the ball was going to go."
McDowell responded with an 11-play, 84-yard drive that was capped by a Tarasovitch two-yard run with 36 seconds left in the first half. The Stark PAT made it 7-3 in favor of the Trojans at the half. The key play of the drive was a 28-yard reverse to receiver Eric Iavarone that put the ball on the Husky 12.
That was the only significant drive of the night for McDowell as the Husky defense held the Trojans to only 198 total yards. McDowell loves to run up the middle, but the trio of linemen Colton Craig and Jesse Rogers, along with linebacker Kyle Kahley, closed it off most of the night.
"I think Jesse (Rogers) and Colton (Craig), along with Kyle (Kahley) behind them, really closed down the middle," Miskinis said. "That takeaway of the inside option run set us up well. They basically had only one drive. The drive where they hit the big reversal. Our defensive line did a great job. We hadn't seen this kind of option all season long. Our defensive coaches came up with a nice game plan and we executed the plan well."
Mifflin County regained the lead with 4:53 left in the third on a 74-yard touchdown strike from Hunter Walker to wideout John Michael Maclay. Traxler's kick made it 10-7 in favor of the Huskies.
Our kids kept their composure. We came back with a big play to John Michael. He made a great play and got us in the end zone," Miskinis said. "From that point on we kind of struggled with our consistency on offense. We couldn't string together three, four, five plays to get a first down and run time off the clock.
"You got to love our kids for the effort and our seniors, what great leadership. They did a great job of never say die, just fighting the elements and fighting a really good McDowell team. We had a great season. Our record finishes at 6-7, but I'll tell you what, I wouldn't change it for the world. I wouldn't trade our seniors for anybody. We did it one time this year. The goal is to be consistent each year like McDowell is and other power teams around the state. That's the way you build a program's future."