Huskies seek first win in trophy game

LEWISTOWN — When Mifflin County formed from the ashes of Lewistown and Indian Valley, and joined the Mid-Penn Conference in 2011, a natural rivalry developed with State College — its closest neighbor on the annual schedule.

In football, the two schools created a trophy game — the Seven Mountains Bucket — with the first contest kicking off in 2014. The Little Lions own the series since the trophy, winning all three games by a combined score of 154-19. The all-time series stands at 5-1 with the Huskies claiming their only win in the 2013 district playoffs.

Despite the close proximity, Mifflin County coach Brent Hartman admits the rivalry isn’t as intense as the old inter-county rivalries of the past.

“There is a semblance of a rivalry, but it’s not Lewistown-Chief Logan or Lewistown-Indian Valley,” Hartman said. “They are across the mountain. They are a big school. We are both 6A, but there is quite a difference in the size of the two schools. They have almost 100 kids on the team. It’s not a cross-town rivalry like we used to have here.”

State College is ranked fourth in the state by Penn Live, and heads into Friday night’s contest with a 2-0 record on the season – thrashing both Lancaster McCaskey (45-12) and Hollidaysburg (55-27). The Little Lions could be the best, most complete team the Huskies face all season. They are averaging 427 yards a game with 348 coming on the ground.

“They are fast at a lot of positions. They are big and have a junior (Keaton Ellis) who already committed to Penn State. Their quarterback (Tommy Friberg) is about 6-6 and runs the ball well. They have a big offensive line that moves people,” Hartman said. “They played Lancaster McCaskey and pushed them down the field. Hollidaysburg played them tough in the beginning and then State turned it on and scored 21 unanswered points. They are a good team – big, fast with a lot of numbers – we have our work cut out for us.”

The answer for the Huskies against State College? Get off to a fast start and have both sides of the line get push back, something that hasn’t happened in their first two games in losses to Williamsport (49-26) and Cedar Cliff (42-9).

“The key to Friday’s game is the line. It’s always the line. We have to get off to a faster start and go after them on defense,” Hartman said. “The first week, Williamsport passed the ball all over us. We stopped the run, but they killed us through the air. Against Cedar Cliff, we stopped the pass but got gashed by the run. We have to get that balance of playing solid football on both sides of the ball.”

According to Hartman, an inexperienced O-line, coupled with even younger backs is the reason the Huskies’ offense stalled in their first two games. Mifflin County averages only 159 yards a game – 51 on the ground and 108 passing.

“We have one returner on the line from last year, Jake Yoder, and it’s not that we have any big leaks in the line, but we are at a stalemate. We aren’t moving people. We are holding people to a stalemate. We have young, inexperienced backs and coupled with a young line; the offense struggled the first two games,” Hartman said.

State College marks the third game in a tough non-conference slate ending at home with District 3 power Wyomissing next week. Hartman understands getting through this difficult stretch of games doesn’t mean things will get easier. Success for his squad begins with getting early momentum against State College and building from there.

“I don’t want them to go in scared. I want our guys to get off to a good start. We had a good start last week against Cedar Cliff, but we made a mistake and then our heads went down,” Hartman said. “We can’t afford to do that at all. Many people in the community are saying, get through these four games and you’ll be fine. I don’t know if we’ll be fine. We have a young team with a lot of people in new positions. We have to improve every week, so we are fine when conference play starts.”

Mifflin County faces an uphill battle against a powerhouse State College squad. Hartman hopes the adversity testing his team in the early portion of the season will make them stronger, resilient and battle-tested for the upcoming Colonial schedule.

“It’s new for these kids on offense and defense. The game is so much faster at the varsity level. They are going to get better. The guys practice hard every night. If we can stand the beating in the beginning, we are going to get better as the season goes along,” Hartman said.

The fourth annual battle for the Seven Mountains Bucket kicks off Friday at Mitchell Field with game time slated for 7 p.m.