Altoona Area High School Mountain Lion football players were flying high after opening the season last week with a 35-14 Foothills Conference win over visiting Norwin that they dominated pretty much from start to finish.
It didn't take long for their new coach, John Franco, to bring them back down to earth.
"He was saying we made like 30-plus mistakes, and we need to fix those," senior receiver/defensive back Jake Diviney said before a practice earlier this week.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Altoona’s Kevin Givens picks up a sack during last week’s game against Norwin.
How well the Lions got the message will be on display tonight at Mansion Park when Altoona tries to go to 2-0 overall against Kiski Area, another Foothills team that is coming off a big week 1 win but is still trying to get those intangibles down, too
Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
It was hard to tell Franco's team had won judging by his postgame comments last Friday. A few days later, not much had changed.
Game: Kiski Area Cavaliers (1-0) vs. Altoona Mountain Lions (1-0)
Where: Mansion Park, Altoona
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Kiski Area - Dave Heavner (9-10, third year); Altoona - John Franco (231-82-2, 27th year)
Series record: Tied, 1-1
Last meeting: Altoona, 24-14 (Sept. 23, 2011)
"We made so many mistakes that really upset me, especially in the kicking game. It seemed like the things we worked on the most," Franco said. "I was not pleased. We have got to end that. That's been one of our problems. We need to be more disciplined. And we're not."
If the Mountain Lion players weren't familiar with the word "discipline" before, they are following Franco's postgame talk.
"He used it every other word," said senior Alois Steinbugl. "Discipline was what we needed on every play. You need to be disciplined when you are coming off the ball, when you are catching the ball looking it into your hands. Discipline is everything in the game of football.
"Personally, I don't think he wanted us to get big heads. We saw it on the film after the game," Steinbugl added. "Coach is never demeaning us. He told us we played a great game, that the intensity was there, the emotion was there, but we made mistakes. We have to focus on those so we can play better next week."
To be sure, there were bright spots. Steinbugl was part of a line that allowed starting Lion running backs Avery Howsare and Mante Barnes roll up more than 200 yards on the ground. Diviney turned a short pass into a touchdown and also recorded an interception.
It seems the Mountain Lions will need to fine tune things a bit more this week. Norwin was very young. Kiski Area, though, is coming off a 22-14 victory over Connellsville, predicted by some to be one of the four playoff teams to come out of the Foothills Conference at the end of the regular season.
"They dominated the line scrimmage. Connellsville broke one long run, but, other than that, they really thumped them pretty good," Franco said. "On the other side of the ball, they have some big-play capability."
Gateway transfer Ricky Carter was 12-for-16 passing for 147 yards. Carter threw two touchdowns, both to Joe Brungo, who caught six passes for 95 yards.
Franco said he sees a lot of similarities between the Lions and Cavaliers. Dave Heavner is in his first year as head coach at Kiski after about 20 years assisting at a number of schools - he actually was part of the Burrell staff that Franco faced with Tyrone in the 1995 Class AA state semifinals - and he said the mental aspect is at the foundation of what he's trying to build.
"What I'm trying to do not only with the football players, but the parents, the community members and those that work in the district is to build equity with them and to have them believe in myself, my staff and what we're trying to put into place at Kiski. It's always nice to win, because that builds up equity and belief in the system itself," Heavner said. "The history of Kiski doesn't read too well over the last 20 years. I thought [last] Friday night, we had to persevere. I saw the team come together and believe in themselves."
The last time Kiski has finished with a winning record was 2003, and the only other time in the last decade the Cavaliers broke even was in 2007. Coincidentally, 2007 also was the last time Altoona posted an above-.500 record, and the last time the Lions opened 2-0 was in 2008.
"It would be huge coming out 2-0," Diviney said. "That would give us a lot of momentum."