LEWISTOWN - For all the much deserved accolades that come with capturing the school's first district championship in football, Mifflin County coach George Miskinis and his staff didn't have much time to celebrate the accomplishment.
Because waiting in the wings is Erie's McDowell High School, the Huskies' opponent in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. Mifflin County (6-6) takes on the Trojans (6-5) Saturday evening at 6 p.m. at Mansell Stadium in DuBois.
"I started thinking about McDowell on Saturday after I came back from the Penn State game," Miskinis said. "We actually got our game film up in the morning. (Roger) Herto was nice enough to come in and get it up for us. We are looking forward to the challenge.
"It's a great feeling (to win districts). Our players have a sense of accomplishment. Hats off to them and our coaching staff. They do a great job of keeping everybody focused. It's something that was long overdue. This is a building block for the future of this program. Hopefully, this will encourage young people to stay with football and lay the foundation for the future."
McDowell advanced to states with a 49-13 thrashing of Allderdice last Friday. The Trojans are battle tested after playing a murderous 2013 schedule. The five McDowell losses came to four of the top teams in Ohio (Mentor, Cardinal Mooney, St. Edwards and St. Ignatius) and the defending PIAA Class AAA champs, unbeaten Erie Cathedral Prep.
The biggest win on the Trojans' schedule was a 35-0 thrashing of General McLane, the District 10 champion and a participant in the Class AAA state playoffs.
Miskinis knows his team will have its hands full with McDowell.
"They played a real tough schedule. They played against some great teams," he said. "They are a class program. They've been through the rigors and wars. It's going to be an exciting game."
To say the Trojans love to run the ball would be a massive understatement.
McDowell averages 246 yards rushing per game and only 58 yards passing. Against Allderdice, the Trojans threw only three times. They score at a 27.4 clip and give up 24.8 a game.
Trojan coach Mark Soboleski likes to share the wealth in the carries department with five backs accumulating over 300 yards on the season.
Senior Tyree Spearman leads the way with 579 yards and four scores. Junior quarterback Jake Tarasovitch (93-492-8), junior backs Tyler Hammond (80-454-5) and Austin Becker (65-311-2) and senior Jamie Szymczak (59-406-6) round out the potent McDowell running game.
"They run a spread option. They run a Navy spread like we ran last year with the double slot as the base formation and then they use multiple formations off of it," Miskinis said. "They'll bring two wide receivers in tight, keep those slot backs right off the edges of the tackles so it will actually look like they're in two tight ends with two wings, but it's a tight flex type of look. They are going to try and use 14-15 types of formations, which is fine because we have the capability of throwing 20 formations at them. It will be a nice little chess match.
"Their quarterback (Tarasovitch) is a real fine athlete. He's one of their leading rushers but he's also the Monster on defense. They play a 4-2-5 on defense and the fifth guy is their Monster. It's a four-deep secondary look and their Monster will go to a formation based upon your team's tendencies. It's going to be an interesting matchup because he sometimes throws the ball away on his pitches. We're going to have to shut that down to be able to do what we do which is run the ball and mix the pass in."
Just like the Districts 6-9 title game with DuBois, turnovers and field position will be keys to victory against the Trojans.
"The keys to the game will be turnovers and field position," Miskinis said. "If we can force turnovers and keep the field position in our favor then the advantage shifts to us. By the same token, if we give them the short field we better be able to hold them to three points. We have to be able to adjust accordingly. It's going to be a chess match played by 15-16-17 year-old kids and the ones who stay focused the most will be victorious."
Offensively, Heath Hidlay is running hot. He's a two-way kid who burns like a three-way bulb. In two playoff games, the senior has rushed for 337 yards and five touchdowns.
The senior has 1,242 yards on the season, the third highest single-season total in county history behind Indian Valley's Nathan Smith (1,333 in 2001) and Nam Shartzer (1,662 in 2006).
It's a two-way street though. The offensive line of Christian Hagans (LT), Keith Fetterhoof (LG), Hayden Snook (C), Colton Craig (RG), and Phil Rearick (RT) are opening up gaping holes. Kyle Bargo and Jesse Rodgers also rotate in providing solid depth.
"He's really stepped up his game. He's really running hard," Miskinis said. "His yards after contact are big. He's seeing things really well. Our line is firing off the ball well. Overall, his running ability has been accentuated by the line stepping up and Kyle Kahley's blocking at the point of attack has been phenomenal at times."
At quarterback, Hunter Walker had his best game of his young career last week against DuBois. The junior looked poised and comfortable and made things happen.
"The passing game has been tailored to what Hunter does well. He's starting to get more comfortable back there." Miskinis said. "The first two playoff games we played teams who had a good idea of what we do because we played them before. With McDowell, it will be a whole new ballgame. They haven't seen some of the offensive weapons we have so hopefully that will give us an advantage."
The defensive line, lead by Rogers and Craig were a disruptive force the last two weeks, especially against DuBois. Miskinis hopes the line continues to wreak havoc against McDowell.
"The key is to be disruptive and to be disruptive they have to play well technique wise and I think Jesse and Colton are getting better and more comfortable with the technique we're asking them to play," he said.
Mifflin County is playing its best football of the year after dispatching DuBois in the district title game by a 41-21 score. The game was over in the first quarter, thanks in part to the physical play of the Huskies and the confidence built playing a grueling Mid-Penn Conference schedule.
Confidence, teamwork and belief are the ingredients to a potent recipe for success. The Huskies have blended the right amount of each for their current two-game winning streak.
"I think the big thing against DuBois was the fact we played a difficult schedule," Miskinis said. "I spoke to coach (Frank) Varischetti before the game and he said he would love to play our schedule. Their schedule is peaks and valleys. They will play a tough game and then have two where they can score 40 or 50 points. Our schedule is set up where we get a tough game every week.
"I hope we are peaking at the right time. Our schedule set us up for that. The way things worked out for us has been a blessing. We played several playoff teams in the regular season. In 13 weeks, we've played some of the toughest teams in the state and that sets us up to be better now and in the future."