Stumbling herd

CARLISLE – It’s only been three years that Mifflin County High School football has existed.

The first 4-0 start in school history may not seem monumental in such a short span, but coach George Miskinis and his Huskies are pretty darn excited.

Mifflin County stayed unbeaten on Friday night behind a strong first half in a 35-14 win over Carlisle at Ken Millen Stadium.

“It’s a tribute to the hard work these guys have put in,” Miskinis said. “Their commitment to lifting and getting stronger and doing some of the running work that we did to get faster is starting to show up. I don’t think we’re as slow as some people think we are and I think we’re as physical as anybody.”

Mifflin County (4-0, 1-0 Mid-Penn Commonwealth) rushed for 211 yards on the Herd behind standout running back Heath Hidlay, who rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Brice Christine completed only four passes, but they went for 199 yards and two touchdowns.

It was the second straight year the Huskies won their Commonwealth Division opener.

It took a little time for the Mifflin County offense to get going, but unsurprisingly it was Hidlay that got things started. The senior running back, who entered the game averaging more than six yards a carry, orchestrated a three-play touchdown drive by himself. His runs of 21 and 36 yards set up a 17-yard scamper up the middle to make it 7-0, Mifflin County.

“It all starts with the (offensive) line. The line got a great push, I found the hole and got up the field,” Hidlay said.

The Huskies regained possession quickly by inducing a Carlisle punt, and this time went to the air. On the first play of the second quarter, Christine hit John-Michael Maclay across the middle. The Huskies’ receiver got free and outran the Carlisle defense to the end zone.

“It was just about adjusting to their speed on runs and passes and how they’re lining up” Christine said. “That pass was a boot pass, we ran that out. As soon as I turned around, there was a guy in my face and I threw it up.”

Isaac Strohecker got it back for the Huskies again by making a leaping interception on a pass by Carlisle’s Billy Burger. Aided by a Carlisle unsportsmanlike conduct call and a Christine 37-yard pass – again to Maclay – Hidlay was set up for a one-yard touchdown plunge. The Huskies held their 21-0 lead into halftime.

Carlisle in the first half produced just 59 yards on offense while being penalized for 41 yards. But in the third, there was a glimpse of hope for the Herd to turn it around.

On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Mifflin’s Kyle Kahley fumbled and Carlisle recovered. A 15-yard Deonte Ramsey run and a 31-yard pass from Burger to Mike Wuestner finally got the Thundering Herd in position to score. Ramsay finished off the 53-yard drive with a three-yard burst for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 21-7 with 9:02 left in the third quarter.

Mifflin County shut down any Carlisle momentum immediately.

The Herd kicked for a touchback, putting the Huskies on their 20-yard line. On first down, tight end Curtis Jerzerick ran down the seam wide open. Christine hit him in stride and the senior turned on the jets. The 80-yard touchdown pass gave Mifflin County a 28-7 lead that would hold through the third quarter.

Penalties continued to plague Carlisle in the second half as well. For the night, Carlisle accumulated 117 yards from 12 yellow flags. Three of them came in a row in the fourth quarter with the Herd on offense, and were followed by an interception of Burger by Maclay.

The Huskies’ 6-2 senior returned the pick 36 yards to set up another Mifflin County score.

Kahley, who had another lost fumble in the third quarter, atoned for his mistakes with a 30-yard touchdown run on the ensuing play with 5:44 left to extend the Mifflin lead to 35-7.

The Thundering Herd scored late in the fourth quarter on a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown by Jonathan Mundell to make it 35-14; the home team successfully fielded the ensuing onside kick as well.

But the 12th and final Carlisle penalty brought back a 35-yard touchdown pass from Burger to Wuestner because the Carlisle quarterback had crossed the line of scrimmage. Despite Ramsey’s 125 yards rushing and 67 yards receiving – both team-highs – the Herd’s 23-month long losing streak was extended to 15 games.

As for the Huskies, they will enter the meat of the Mid-Penn Commonwealth schedule by taking on Harrisburg next week. Miskinis thinks his team is ready to compete.

“It’s brutal, we learned a lot last year about the physicality of play,” Miskinis said of the Commonwealth. “We’ve been able to try to tailor everything our kids our do to what we can do better. I think that’s a big step up for us.”