LEWISTOWN - There were big plays all around Mifflin County's first Mid-Penn Conference game Friday night at Mitchell Field.
With athletic kick returns and an explosive offense throughout the first three quarters, it was only fitting that the most notable plays of the game would be on Carlisle's last drive.
Down eight points with 2:35 showing on the clock, the Thundering Herd needed to dial up a few more big plays. Derek Specht, Mason Sweitzer and the Mifflin County defense had something to say about that.
Sentinel photos by MATT?STRICKER
Huskies wide receiver John Michael Maclay (25) hangs on to a clutch third-and-long pass from Shane Whalen while covered by Carlisle’s Deonte Ramsey. Maclay scored on the play.
The Huskies sacked Carlisle's Billy Burger on a fourth-and-13 play with a minute left to begin a new chapter in the history book of football in the Juniata Valley - and a 35-27 win in the Huskies' introduction to the Mid-Penn.
Senior quarterback Shane Whalen threw for 175 yards and a 66-yard touchdown strike to John Michael Maclay to lead the Huskies. Maclay finished with three catches for 114 yards. Mifflin County's power running back Kyle Kahley hammered down for 73 yards a pair of scores.
Carlisle's final drive had the capacity crowd at Mitchell Field on its feet. The Thundering Herd were able to get a few first downs. But before the Carlisle faithful could celebrate a tying score, the Huskies line blew up and sent Whalen on the field for one of his favorite moments.
IF YOU GO
* Mifflin County travels to Harrisburg Sept. 29
"I was thinking, get me the ball back so I can take a knee," he said. "I just wanted to get this thing over with and be 1-0 in the Mid-Penn."
Mifflin County had doubters going in. Many people were worried if the Huskies would even win a game in the Commonwealth Division. The Huskies put those thoughts to bed in a big way. Playing tough defense in the first half and getting big plays when it counts made it all more fitting for Whalen.
"We hear all the talk about the Mid-Penn and we were predicted to lose to an 0-3 team," he said. "They think they're better than us just because they're in the Mid-Penn. We showed some real heart tonight. We're a team and we showed that."
The Thundering Herd are a young team, but with an array of playmakers, you never know when they are going to strike. Fortunately for Mifflin County, the Huskies struck first.
"I loved every minute (watching that victory formation)," Mifflin County coach George Miskinis said. "Carlisle is a young team and they have some skill people. We were able to get to them early."
And get to them early they did.
With games in the Mid-Penn only going to get tougher, the Huskies will have to strike first throughout the season. And Friday night was the perfect start Mifflin County was looking for.
After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Huskies opened up on defense. Two plays by Carlisle and the ball was already going the other way.
Husky linebacker Dylan Kauffman jumped in front of a Burger pass and returned the interception 39 yards down to the Thundering Herd 6-yard line.
After one play and a holding penalty, Heath Hidlay took an option pitch from Whalen and scampered 15 yards for the game's first score. And it was only two minutes in.
Following a three-and-out from the Thundering Herd, the Huskies capitalized on a 15-yard punt. A six-play 42-yard drive was highlighted by Whalen's 26-yard connection with Maclay. Four plays later, Kahley put his second touchdown on the board from three yards out.
And before the Huskies knew it, they were getting back to the end zone again.
Burger was picked off on Carlisle's next possession by Campbell Miller. Miller made some nice moves that turned into a 65-yard interception returned for a touchdown.
"It was great to get a start like that," Miskinis said. "Every play is a huge play and you never know which one is going to mean the most."
With a 21-0 advantage for the Huskies at the end of the first quarter, the Thundering Herd finally went to its playmakers.
After Carlisle controlled the ball for most of the second quarter, Deonte Ramsey finally broke through Mifflin County's thus-far stout defense with a minute to play in the half. A 15-yard run down to the goal line turned into a touchdown when the ball was fumbled into the end zone and the Herd recovered.
"In the second quarter we made mistakes that hurt us," Miskinis said.
Carlisle was the first to strike in the third quarter after teammate Eli White recovered another Ramsey fumble in the end zone. That put the game within a score at 21-14. But the Huskies' big plays kept on coming.
This is when Whalen connected with Maclay down the right side. Maclay made a fingertip grab, made Ramsey miss and toed the sideline for his 66-yard touchdown.
"It's a nice combination," Miskinis said of Whalen to Maclay. "It's fun to watch them. Shane's now understanding where the ball has to be delivered."
Big plays continued, and with the Huskies up only two scores at 28-14, the firepower Carlisle had began to creep into the minds of the Mifflin County faithful.
Bamasa Bailor returned the Huskies kickoff 66-yards down to the Herd 24. Two plays later, Burger hit Bailor for a 20-yard touchdown.
With less than four minutes to play in the third, Mifflin County made the drive of the game. Kahley capped a 12-play, 90-yard campaign with a score from five yards out. The drive took more than six minutes off the clock.
"We didn't do anything with the second half kickoff," Miskinis said. "We made a stop and got the ball back. That 90-yard drive kind of did it for us. Every time they got close we had a big play."
Carlisle's chances weren't finished just yet.
Bailor returned a Mifflin County punt 35 yards to the Herd 14 with 5:34 showing on the Mitchell Field scoreboard. Two plays later, Burger connected with Ramsey for 19 yards to make the score 35-27.
That set up Mifflin County's big defensive stop.
"They went to an empty formation on that last play," Miskinis said. "We sent six and they can only block five. We have to roll the dice in the that situation."
The Mifflin County line did the rest and Whalen was able to secure the Huskies' first conference win with a pair of knees.
"Every play is huge," Miskinis said. "That's the thing. In the end that sack was even bigger."
Mifflin County has rattled off three straight wins after falling to DuBois in the opener. But things are only going to get tougher here on out for the Huskies.
In two weeks, the defending state champion, Central Dauphin, makes the trip to Mitchell Field. Prior to that, the Huskies will play their first afternoon game of the season when they travel to Severance Field to face Harrisburg Sept. 29. Harrisburg topped State College 33-12 on Friday.
"Hats off to our kids," Miskinis said. "They played their hearts out and refused to lose."