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Topping State College good measuring stick for Altoona

September 22, 2007
By Philip Cmor
After what’s happened to the Altoona Area High School football team the last couple of years against State College, you could imagine that sinking feeling Mountain Lion senior Joey Mummert experienced when he saw the ball loose at the end of an A.J. Alexander run with about 3:30 left to play and his team nursing a seven-point lead.

It’s kind of like your girlfriend jilting you for your worst enemy ... and taking your pet dog, too.

“Aw, man. It was in the back of my mind the whole time,’’ Mummert said, referencing six- and four-point defeats at the hands of the Little Lions the previous two years. “When I saw A.J. fumble — I knew he was on the ground — my heart dropped.’’

Different year. Different team. Different outcome.

The officials ruled Alexander’s knee was down before the ball came out. The Mountain Lions proceeded to run out the clock and snapped their five-game losing streak to State, 24-17.

“This was bigger than a normal game,’’ Altoona senior Alphonso Lewis, a force both running the ball and at linebacker, said. “First, it was at home. Second, we had a stumble last week [losing at undefeated Cumberland Valley in overtime]. We bounced back tonight. We got a big victory.

“We go ahead from here. It’s a big motivation for us next week. One more step toward our goal.’’

And, make no mistake, this wasn’t a small step. It even may have been bigger than reversing a 44-point, 2006 loss to Harrisburg two weeks ago.

Altoona had led in the last five minutes of the last two meetings with State College — once in the last minute — only to have the Little Lions find a way to prevail, sometimes in improbable fashion. You could contend those might have been the two most bitter, heartbreaking losses in Phil Riccio’s years as Altoona coach. If not, the list of those above it is certainly short.

Another loss to State College could have drawn one to conclude the Little Lions had Altoona’s number, much the way Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators owned Tennessee when Peyton Manning was quarterbacking the Volunteers.

In the grand scheme of things, it was an important win because it was against one of the outstanding Class AAAA programs in the state right now; the victory will be important for the Mountain Lions for the power points and tiebreakers and that it could mean an extra home game at Mansion Park come playoff time.

Psychologically, the benefits could all the greater. If there were any doubts Altoona could legitimately contend for the Mid-Penn Commonwealth and District 3-6 Class AAAA championships, the Mountain Lions’ wins over Harrisburg and now State College dispelled them.

“I’m so proud of this team. Every play, we play as a team. We don’t give up. This is the best moment of my life,’’ Mummert said. “This is the biggest game I’ve ever played in. State College is a good team. We knew they were going to come to play. They’re going to make the playoffs.’’

The victory also answered questions about how this Altoona team would respond to last week’s setback and that it could pull out a tight game against a quality opponent.

“Coming off a loss, this was a big test for us. It shows us we can bounce back. We have that ability,’’ lineman Nik Rosenberry said. “So, we keep rolling off this one and keep building.’’

Riccio cites maturity as one of his team’s biggest assets. That was evidenced in a comment by Lewis.

“Once the clock at Cumberland Valley was 0:00, we were over it. Move on. You can’t take it back,’’ Lewis said.

And now the Mountain Lions move on, too. But, this time, it’s off big win. How far it will take them has yet to be written.

When Tennessee finally cleared that hurdle, it went on to win the national championship. If channeled properly, this is the type of win Altoona can ride a long way.

Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or

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