It is not the biggest defense in the area. It is not the fastest.

So when La Salle takes on State College in the PIAA Class AAAA state championship football game at 2:10 p.m. today, its defense will rely on what got it there: making the big play.

"I'd recommend for State College to put 15 or 16 guys on offense if they can," said Ridley coach Dennis Decker, whose Green Raiders lost to La Salle last Saturday in the state semifinals.

"You can't be one-dimensional against that type of defense, with the type of athletic kids that they have," Decker said. "You have to be able to run the ball and you have to be able to throw the ball."

Ridley was unable to do that, and La Salle gave up just one score in a 35-7 victory. The Explorers' 4-4-3 defense was so dominant through the first three quarters that it forced four turnovers and gave up only 89 yards rushing and 89 passing.

The Explorers (13-1) are yielding an average of just 12.3 points per game, and head coach Drew Gordon's players have given up a touchdown or less six times.

"They really believe in each other," Gordon said as he prepared for today's game at Hersheypark Stadium. "They're a very close group. They have an idea of what they want to do, and they execute."

On offense, the Explorers are averaging more than 30 points a game, and their star quarterback, Drew Loughery, has thrown for more than 2,000 yards.

Loughery has a host of weapons at his disposal: four of the best receivers in the state in Sam Feleccia, Connor Hoffman, Steve Jones and Kevin Forster, and one of the best running backs in Jamal Abdur-Rahman.

It's the same on defense. There is talent - and a lot of it.

The wealth is perhaps best illustrated by the linebacker corps. Against Ridley, Shane Brady and Ryan Saraceni each recorded five tackles, and Anthony Cognetti recovered two fumbles. When one of them needs a rest, Mark DiFrangia moves right in.

The defensive ends joined the action against Ridley, too. Steve Sinott recorded four solo tackles, and Joseph Naji forced a fumble by quarterback Colin Masterson.

Sinott and Naji are part of a line rotation that also features end Cameron Cappo and tackles Ryan Geiger, Steve Szostak, Kieran Trainer, and Matt DiGiacomo.

One of the key elements of the line is its constant shifting before the play, which defensive coordinator John Steinmetz uses to keep offenses off-balance.

In the secondary, Forster, who plays free safety and posted five tackles last week, has shut down opposing passing attacks all season while making clutch open-field tackles. He was named one of the area's top safeties by The Inquirer earlier this month.

Other key players in the secondary are Abdur-Rahman and another starting cornerback, Vinny Migliarese, as well as backups Patrick Resch, Ryan Otis, and Bill Thomas.

Resch, Otis and Thomas enter the game most often on passing downs.

"I thought they played well in the secondary," Decker said of the Explorers. "We weren't able to get off the ball in front, which kind of hurt us, and we never got our running game established."

For State College (12-2), finding ways to score on Gordon's well-rounded, well-disciplined defense may be difficult. But Gordon is not worried about what State College will do. He said the outcome would likely come down to his defense's playing smart.

"It's a matter of believing in your assignments," he said.