Football Team Falls to Downingtown East in Home Opener

Michael Gaul celebrating a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Michael Gaul celebrating a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Noah Radio

Friday night lights are back on at Memorial Field. The Little Lions opened their home slate on Friday night with a 28-26 loss to Downingtown East. This marks the football team’s first regular season loss since Oct. 23, 2021, on the road against Harrisburg.

Led by senior running back Ayden Harris, the Downingtown East offense knifed through the State High defense for consistent gains. Penalties hurt them, and two false starts from senior receiver Brady Brenner forced a first-drive punt.

Coming off a five-touchdown explosion against Williamsport, sophomore running back, D’Antae Sheffey was expected to match what Harris had just done. Sheffey got the call on the first play and was stuffed for a two-yard loss by senior linebacker Ryan Shannon, setting the theme for the game. State College would go three and out and send the ball right back to the Cougars.

Still early in the first quarter, Downingtown East marched down the field, mixing screen passes with a steady diet of Ayden Harris runs. Harris finished the job with a nine-yard touchdown to take the lead 7-0.

After a holding penalty and another failed running play, Ty Salazer had his first of many big plays with an 18-yard catch in traffic to move the chains. Another penalty and three failed plays later, punter John Ziph came on again.

The first quarter came to a close with Downingtown leading 7-0, and State College’s longest rush at just four yards. The offense was looking bleak.

With 8:50 left in the second quarter, Sheffey went down with an apparent leg injury and wouldn’t be seen on offense again until the fourth quarter. With their star on the sidelines, State High came up with their first explosive play. Junior quarterback Eddie Corkery tossed a 70-yard touchdown strike to Salazer to even the score at 7. Salazer said about that touchdown, “It felt pretty great, not [going to] lie, but we got plenty more to go.”

Downingtown didn’t hesitate and quickly drove down the field to set up fourth and goal from the one-yard line. Who else to get the ball but Harris, who muscled through for his second score of the game with 4:50 left in the second quarter.

After Ziph’s third punt, Downingtown drove to the State College 36 and had fourth and five with the offense on the field. The risk paid off, because senior halfback Owen Lammy took a short pass from quarterback JJ Helverson in for six, and the Cougars led 21-7.

The game went to halftime, and it was evident that the high-powered offense and stifling defense of 2022 were not of the same caliber in 2023.

The State High offense looked energized coming out of the locker room, but couldn’t convert in the red zone and turned it over on downs.

Downingtown found their groove again with Harris, and he took them down the field to score his third rushing touchdown. This one came from 12 yards out to go up 28-7.

Junior linebacker/receiver Michael Gaul came up big on the next Downingtown drive with a tackle for loss on Harris to force a punt after a solid drive.

Suddenly, Corkery found a rhythm with his receivers, specifically Salazer, and moved into scoring position with 1:29 left in the third. Salazer capped the drive off with a 14-yard touchdown to make the score 28-14.

Early in the fourth quarter, Downingtown and Harris looked like they would march down and score yet again. With 10:04 on the clock, Harris was stuffed in the backfield and fumbled into the arms of Salazer to give State College the ball at their own 12-yard line.

Corkery and the offense trotted out with D’Antae Sheffey among them for the first time since the second quarter. With passes to Sheffey, Gaul, and Salazer they marched into scoring position with eight minutes to play. Corkery then unleashed a pass to the front right of the end zone to Gaul, who made the catch over top of a Downingtown cornerback for a touchdown. Ziph’s extra point was blocked, which held the score at 28-20.

Downingtown worked their way to a fourth and one from their own 36 and elected to go for it. Harris powered his way forward for the first down but coughed up the ball for a second time, and Sheffey recovered with 6:18 on the clock.

Only two positive plays were needed to get in the end zone again. Corkery threw his fourth touchdown of the game, this one to Salazer for 25 yards to make the score 28-26 Downingtown. Corkery’s pass fell incomplete on the two-point try, holding the score at 28-26.

Downingtown East worked their way to fourth and one for the third time and handed off to Harris. A huge play was then made by senior nose tackle Justin Castro-Dixon to stuff Harris for no gain. State College took over on downs at the Downingtown 40 with 2:03 left in the game.

A quick first down pass to Cooper Brushwood and two negative Sheffey rushes later, kicker John Ziph came out for a 50-yard field goal try with four seconds remaining. With the crowd on their feet, the kick was dead straight but came up just a couple feet short as time expired. The Downingtown bench cleared as State College was left with the unfamiliar feeling of a loss at Memorial Field.

Head coach Matt Lintal focused on the positives after the game and said, “I’m really proud of our boys, the effort was tremendous.” He finished with, “We got better tonight, even without the outcome we wanted.”

Lintal and the Little Lions will be back on the road next Friday looking to defeat Hollidaysburg for the eighth straight season.

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