SLIPPERY ROCK - The blustery wind blew through Slippery Rock University's Mihalik-Thompson Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
So did Erie McDowell's running backs.
The Trojans racked up 403 yards on the ground en route to a 42-0 win over State College in a PIAA Class AAAA first-round game.
McDowell's James Conner led the ground assault with 224 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries.
"I thought that was one of the best physical efforts of a McDowell team since I've been here," McDowell coach Mark Soboleski said. "On both sides of the ball, we were as physical as we have been all season."
As dominant as the Trojans (7-5) were on offense, they were equally strong on defense. They limited the Little Lions (9-4) to 49 yards and forced three turnovers.
"They are a good team," State College coach Al Wolski said. "We knew they were going to be physical and we just didn't answer it."
McDowell needed four plays to score on its first possession. The Trojans took advantage of turnover deep in State College territory to set up their second score. They pounced on a fumbled Little Lions snap at the 11 and, one play later, Conner crashed into the end zone on an 11-yard jaunt for a 14-0 edge.
"That first turnover was huge. It gave us that cushion," Soboleski said. "We've been a team that's kind of been on the other end of that in big games this year. We talked about all week being the team to capitalize on the mistakes and not the team that makes the mistakes."
State College forced its first turnover of the game late in the second quarter. However, the Little Lions failed to capitalize. With 5:10 left in the half, Andrew Kelly's halfback pass was dropped. It would have put them deep in Trojans territory. Instead, they were forced to punt.
"When we did we did get a break, we made a mistake. We dropped four or five passes," Wolski said. "We thought we'd have to throw the ball against them and the conditions weren't great for throwing. When we did throw, we didn't catch it."
Backed up deep in its own zone following the punt, McDowell moved the ball to its own 26 before Conner broke a 52-yard run. Kelly's diving tackle attempt just tripped Conner before he could take it the distance. Three plays later, he did take it to the house for a 21-0 lead with 41.3 seconds left in the half.
"They took advantage of it. If we could have kept it 14-0 at half, maybe we had a chance," Wolski said. "We didn't do anything with our first possession of the second half, either."
State College gained 2 yards on the opening drive of the third and some trickery backfired. Punter Dan Fry scrambled on an apparent fake punt attempt, but dropped the ball and McDowell recovered on the Little Lions' 23. Six plays later, Khyre Drayer scored on a 1-yard run for a 28-0 advantage. Drayer finished with 88 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
Conner scored on an 8-yard run late in the third to enact the 35-point mercy rule. The Trojans added another TD early in the fourth to wrap up the win, which avenged playoff defeats to State College in 2008 and '09.
"It's unbelievable. We've battled with them. To finally beat them and take that next step is really special for us as a program," Soboleski said.
McDowell meets top-ranked North Allegheny (13-0), the District 7 champ, next weekend in a PIAA quarterfinal game. In the past, the Trojans played in the Tigers' conference for football only before being forced to return to District 10 this fall.
"They are as impressive as they've ever been. We're very familiar with them and we've gone back and forth with them a couple times," Soboleski said.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
State College0 0 0 0 - 0
McDowell7 14 14 7 - 42
M-Drayer 29 run (Stark kick), 10:07
M-Conner 11 run (Stark kick), 9:01
M-Conner 9 run (Stark kick)l, 41.3
M-Drayer 1 run (Stark kick), 6:26
M-Conner 8 run (Stark kick), 2:32
M-Ukasik 3 run (Stark kick), 10:12
RUSHING: State College-Kelly 7-25, Goeke 5-22, Irwin 3-(-4), Knouse 3-(-1), Britton 1-0, Theis 2-6. McDowell-Tarasovitch 9-23, Conner 21-224, Drayer 11-88, Gallagher 2-0, Richardson 4-26, Ukasik 5-20, Becker 3-22.
PASSING: State College-Irwin 1-7-1-1, Kelly 0-1-0-0. McDowell-Tarasovitch 1-2-0-20
RECEIVING: State College-Kelly 1-1. McDowell-Gallagher 1-20
INTERCEPTIONS: State College-none. McDowell-Warren.