Its WPIAL Class AAAA playoff hopes essentially dashed by last week's loss at Penn Hills, the Altoona Area High School football team is looking for some fresh motivation for its final three regular season games, beginning when it hosts Plum at Mansion Park on Friday night.
"This is our homecoming week, so we're going for our third win. We know a lot of people come back to watch during homecoming week, so we don't want to let our school or our city down,'' Mountain Lions coach Tom Palfey said. "It's a chance for the people who are filling in to show what they can do. The challenge for those people who've been backing up who maybe thought they should have been starting to begin with to show if that's the case.
"We know we're banged up, but we also know it's a great opportunity to get another win in front of a homecoming crowd.''
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Lions are coming off of losses to Woodland Hills and Penn Hills that dropped them to 2-4 overall and 1-3 in the Big East Conference - they'd have to win this week and next week against undefeated and nationally ranked Pittsburgh Central Catholic while either Penn Hills or Fox Chapel lost its last two conference games to have any shot at the postseason.
In the last two games, Altoona has been outscored 68-13 and outgained 659-212.
Game: Plum Mustangs (1-5) vs. Altoona Mountain Lions (2-4)
Where: Mansion Park, Altoona
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Plum - Frank Sacco (10-16, third year); Altoona - Tom Palfey (4-21, third year)
Series record: Plum, 1-0
Last meeting: Plum, 34-14 (Oct. 15, 2010)
"We haven't been very good at our base stuff recently,'' Palfey said. "We have to get better at that. There's not a lot of strategy involved this week. It's about getting things right.''
To still be working on the fundamentals more than halfway through the season undoubtedly is a difficult pill for Palfey to have to swallow.
"You would hope at this point in the season that everybody would be gelling, and everybody would have run the same plays 40, 50 times and have it down. But, when you have so many people filling in here or there, that makes the timing not just right. That part is frustrating,'' Palfey said. "But, you know what? As a coach, you're a teacher, and you've got to figure out a way to get those guys learning the best you can.''
The Mountain Lions lost another skill position starter last week when running back Dion Brown broke his collarbone. However, Danny Moyer did see some limited playing time against Penn Hills and is listed as day-to-day in his chances to play Friday night. Explosive slotback Rafeeq Barnes and quarterback Lou Bettwy have a slight chance to get on the field against Plum, too, Palfey said.
Plum coach Frank Sacco is wary of the Mountain Lions.
"The're a good, physical , aggressive team. They gave us problems last year, and I think they're better this year,'' Sacco said. "They're very athletic. I think they have a little more speed than they had last year.''
After making the playoffs in each of Sacco's first two years at the helm, the Mustangs are in very much the same situation as Altoona this season. Plum is 1-5 and 0-3 in the conference.
The Mustangs' schedule has been brutal. They've lost to Franklin Regional (6-0), Woodland Hills (5-1), Highlands (5-1), Central Catholic (6-0) and Penn Hills.
"It's just something you have to deal with and come through it,'' Sacco said. "We've had a lot of injuries. That's been one of our big problems. We've had eight starters out the last few weeks. We've been playing a lot of young kids, a lot of freshmen and sophomores.''
Among the wounded has been senior receiver C.J. Lutz, who ranked third among WPIAL Class AAAA wide receivers last year with 41 receptions, and leading rusher Tarique Ellis. Sacco also has been without four defensive linemen.
Quarterback Chris Zdinak leads the Mustangs with 663 yards passing, much of it going Lutz's direction.
"You watch the tape, and there's a lot of different numbers playing for them. I think he's going through a lot of what we're going through,'' Palfey said. "But that's not our concern right now. We're not as good as we need to be, so we can't worry about the opponent and their personnel. We have to worry about doing our things right.''