HARRISBURG – For a half, Mifflin County football had the look and the literal feel of a top-tier Mid-Penn Conference football team on Friday night.
The Huskies dialed up to full power in the first 24 minutes, using sheer muscle football to eat up yards, time of possession and field position against Central Dauphin, a team miles away from its 2011 PIAA championship form, but formidable just the same.
When the first half ended, Mifflin County, so dominant on offense and solid on defense, found itself trailing by three points. And when the second half ended, the Huskies were at the tail end of a 31-14 score that was both representative and deceptive.
“We played, very hard, especially since we were down two starters,” Mifflin County coach George Miskinis said. “That was our game out there – power football. We did a lot of good things.”
Despite more than doubling up Central Dauphin on offensive yards (146 to 72), nearly tripling the Rams in time of possession (17:28 to 6:32) and running exactly the same number of offensive plays in Central Dauphin territory than the Rams ran the entire half (22), the Huskies were still looking up a 10-7 deficit.
“Wow we didn’t have the ball much in the first half and just didn’t get anything going; that team over there (pointing to the Mifflin County sideline) had a little something to do with it,” Central Dauphin coach Glen McNamee said. “But we had a lead, and that’s what mattered.”
In the end, it mattered a lot.
The Rams (4-2, 3-1) had that 3-point lead for two reasons – they took advantage of their only two scoring chances, one defensive, one offensive.
The defensive score came when Central Dauphin senior Jacob Perry stepped in front of a too-soft pass by Mifflin County’s Brice Christine at the Central Dauphin 36 on the first play of the second quarter and went 64 yards unfettered for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Mifflin County, led by Heath Hidlay’s north-south rips that eventually piled up156 yards on 19 carries, kept blasting away at the Rams and responded with Hidlay’s game-tying, 2-yard scoring run with 2:21 left in the half. That was set up by a fumble recovery at the Rams’ 35.
At that point, all was still well with the Huskies; they were very much in the game. But the Central Dauphin offense, which had just one first down in the game’s first 22 minutes, suddenly put together a drive, marching from its own 23 to the Huskies’ 29 with 4.2 seconds left.
That was just enough time and just enough distance to give Central Dauphin kicker Jacob Kerschner a shot at 46-yard field goal attempt. It was low and turning sideways, but it was straight enough and long enough, and Central Dauphin charged off of Landis Field with that 10-7 lead.
“That drive before the half got us back on our feet,” McNamee said.
Emboldened by its late-second quarter success, the Rams gained control of the game in the third quarter, starting with a 14-play, 79-yard drive that mirrored Mifflin County’s style: power blasts and short passes.
It ended with Nate Dickey’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Jake Notenstine, who bent over backward a yard away from the goal line and reached the ball to the end zone with 4:58 to play in the quarter.
Now up 17-7, Central Dauphin started snarling, and the Huskies, for the first time all night, became a little unnerved on their first possession of the half. A first down lateral that was covered at the Mifflin County 17, a mid-range run and an incompletion led to a punting situation.
But the snap got past punter John Michael Maclay, who scooped it, ran to his right and tried to get off a kick.
He did, but it landed six yards shy of the line of scrimmage. Central Dauphin’s Josh Salak took it on one hop, went 17 yards the other way for the backbreaker just 96 seconds after Notenstine’s score to give CD a 24-7 lead.
“It was a reversal of fortune,” Miskinis said. “Some things happened that made it a little ugly.”
Still, Mifflin County bounced back right away to score, using a 49-yard run by Hidlay to the Central Dauphin 31 to set up Gage Reeseman’s 10-yard scoring run a minute before the end of the third quarter.
But the Huskies never really threatened after that, hurt by a strip by the Rams’ A.J. Perez near midfield that squelched a Husky possession and effectively ended its chance to win.
Central Dauphin eventually put away the game on Dickey’s 3-yard run 3:36 to go.
“We’re making progress,” Miskinis said. “This is Year Three. People have to remember a three-year-old is a toddler, and we’re still in the toddler stage.”
Mifflin County (4-2, 1-2) hosts Cumberland Valley Oct. 11.