The Norwin rosters in the program for Altoona Area's season-opening football game were from last year.
That seemed to make sense, because there was definitely a turn-back-the-clock feel to things at Mansion Park on Friday night.
With John Franco coming back to the Altoona sidelines for the first time since 1993, the Mountain Lions used old-fashioned smash-mouth football, getting more than 100 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns on the ground from Avery Howsare before a large, partisan crowd in a 35-14 WPIAL Foothills Conference victory.
Altoona coach John Franco is all smiles on Friday.
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
Altoona’s Brennan Luciano tackles Norwin’s Kyle Baum during the opening night of high school football on Friday.
"It started going really good, and we wanted to stick with it," Howsare said. "We have a great line up front, and we just pushed the ball at them."
It certainly wasn't a high-octane passing offense like the kind Franco put on the field at Altoona when he coached Steve Taneyhill or last year at Tyrone with his son, Steve, at the controls. The Lions' first 12 plays were runs, including 10 by the 195-pound Howsare.
"We wanted to establish the run because we have a veteran offensive line, and we think we have to establish the run to be successful," Franco said. "Those guys up front blocked hard, and both backs ran hard."
"We felt really confident on our line coming out, coming hard, coming off the ball really quick, just blowing them off the ball and getting them to the ground, just going at them," said senior tackle Austin Rosenberry, who teamed with Brandon Bernazzoli, Josh Kutz, Noah Scheinberg, Damian Smith and Alois Steinbugl across the starting front.
Howsare reached the 100-yard mark on his 11th carry and first run of the second quarter, holding the football just over the plane for his second touchdown, coming from 8 yards out. He capped Altoona's initial 55-yard march with a 7-yard touchdown run in which he bowled over a Norwin defender for the final 2 yards to get into the end zone.
"He runs hard, and we block hard," Rosenberry said. "That combination is unstoppable."
Howsare finished with 160 yards on 25 carries. He ran for 247 yards and two touchdowns in a reserve role all of last season, when the Lions surpassed the 200-yard rushing plateau in just one of its nine games.
"I'm going to be sore tomorrow," Howsare said, "but I feel good about the game. I'm going to enjoy it."
As a team, Altoona piled up 244 yards on the ground, including 53 and a fourth-quarter touchdown by Mante Barnes.
Sophomore Kevin Givens had an impressive varsity debut for the Lions on the defensive side. He picked off a pass at the line of scrimmage and raced 63-yards for a score that made it 21-0. Later in the first half, he recorded a sack and batted down a pass.
"And he was playing injured. That's why we didn't play him much on offense. He pulled his groin last week,"Franco said. "He's got that ability [to make big plays]."
After watching their team win eight games over the last four years, Altoona fans were excited to see Franco return as coach following a successful stint at Tyrone that resulted in District 6's only PIAA championship in 1999. That feeling carried over to the players.
"We woke up early for team breakfast, and we've been hyped all day," Rosenberry said. "We've been ready for this."
The one person in the stadium that might not have been hyped up was Franco.
"It's game time. Four or five of the last six games I've coached have been right here," Franco said. "That stuff kind of went away through the spring and summer. Tonight, it was too much to focus on the game."
Norwin got on the board at the start of the third quarter. Casey Rebosky took an end-around 47 yards for the score one play after the Knights recovered an onside kick. Later in the quarter, Jake LaGorga returned a kickoff 97 yards for a TD.
"I was very impressed," Knights coach Art Tragesser said of Altoona. "John's a good guy. I'm sure he's going to get this program back in a big way. Shortly."
Franco wasn't nearly as impressed with his team.
"I was pleased with our offensive line and our running backs, but, other than that, I'm not particularly thrilled with how we played. We've got a lot of work to do," Franco said. "But I knew that. It doesn't mean I have to like it."
Game notes: Jake Diviney added an 18-yard touchdown reception from Brennan Luciano for the Lions. ... Ricky Hoover, Chuck Saylor and Billy Davis - all members of Franco's 1987 Altoona team - were honorary captains. ... Jeff Hancock made a great diving catch for a 37-yard gain to the Norwin 21 late in the first half, but it was negated by a penalty. ... Altoona hosts Kiski Area next Friday in another Foothills Conference game.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Norwin0 0 14 0 - 14
Altoona7 14 7 7 - 35
A-Howsare 7 run (Savino kick), 7:07.
A-Howsare 8 run (Savino kick), 11:51.
A-Givens 63 interceptions return (Savino kick), 9:56.
N-Rebosky 47 run (Schiavone pass from Driggers), 11:45.
A-Diviney 18 pass from Luciano (Savino kick), 5:01.
N-LaGorga 97 kickoff return (pass failed), 4:45.
A-Barnes 1 run (Savino kick), 10:44.
RUSHING: Norwin-Rebosky 4-78, Tinsley 4-11, Hall 2-20, Chellini 3-2, Zatezalo 1-1, Bowen 3-(-16), Thrift 1-2. Altoona-Howsare 25-160, Barnes 11-53, Luciano 4-13, Givens 2-9, McConnell 4-9, Fink 1-0, McGinley 1-0.
PASSING: Norwin-Driggers 3-9-1-36, Bowen 6-13-2-80. Altoona-Luciano 4-8-0-44.
RECEIVING: Norwin-Baum , Rebosky , Tinsley. Altoona-Diviney 2-31, Barnes 1-1, Howsare 1-12.
INTERCEPTIONS: Norwin-none. Altoona-Givens, Diviney, McGinley.