It might seem like a 35-point loss would be best put into the past, but Altoona Area High School football coach John Franco felt there were things the Mountain Lions could take away from last week's loss to state powerhouse Gateway.
"You get a chance look at the elite talent of the WPIAL. That's one of the most talented teams I've ever seen in high school," Franco said. "From what I'm told, there are several teams that are pretty close to them at the top, and it gave us a chance to see how we'd compete and compare with the top level."
The 1-3 Lions will have another chance to see how they match up with elite talent on Friday night when McKeesport comes to Mansion Park for a 7 p.m. Foothills Conference kickoff with Division I quarterback Ed Stockett.
The Tigers, 1-3, also have a top-caliber player in fullback/linebacker Hodari Christian. Christian has committed to West Virginia.
"They're very good, very athletic," Franco said. "The quickness and the speed is there. The Division I quarterback, the Division I middle linebacker and fullback is every bit as good as anyone on Gateway, or at least pretty close.
"Size-wise, I think we match up much better, but speed and quickness-wise, they're still pretty fast and pretty quick."
The 6-foot, 215-pound Christian comes in having rushed for 282 yards and is averaging better than 5 yards per attempt.
Stockett, though, is the pivotal figure for the Tigers. Despite not playing in last week's 28-14 loss to Penn-Trafford for non-injury-related reasons, Stockett still has thrown for almost 300 yards and rushed for more than 200 in the McKeesport veer.
Stockett passed for nearly 1,800 yards as a junior, including 195 yards and three touchdowns on 8-of-10 passing in last year's 47-7 rout of the Mountain Lions.
"He's a great football player, and we're going to need him to play a great game on Friday for us to come out with a win," Tigers coach Jim Ward said.
Franco is well-acquainted with Stockett, at least from afar. McKeesport's quarterback has committed to Akron, where Franco's son, Steve, is a freshman signal-caller. The two could be competing for playing time down the road.
"I've been keeping an eye on him," Franco said. "He's a good one, too. He impresses me. He not only has a major league arm, but he's run the ball this year as well as anyone I've seen."
McKeesport came into the season picked by most conference coaches as the second-best team to Gateway. The Tigers, though, were surprised by Hempfield in their opener and have since dropped a road game to Woodland Hills in addition to the one at Penn-Trafford.
"It's about what I expected, but I didn't expect the amount of injuries that we've had on top of being a young football team," Ward said. "I still feel if we're a healthy football team, we're a good football team. We're starting to get guys back, and I think we're getting to a point where we see a great deal of improvement."
While it still isn't where he wants it to be, Franco said he felt he saw his team advance in several areas against Gateway.
"We battled them up front, even though there was a big size disparity. I thought we played pretty well up front. The problem was we couldn't match their speed and quickness," Franco said. "Our hitting improved. I haven't liked it up to this point. I thought it improved immensely. I thought we played tougher and had great effort."
Sophomore Kevin Givens rushed for 116 yards against the Gators, giving him 183 over the last two games. Avery Howsare continues to lead the Lions with 200 yards on the ground, and Mante Barnes has chipped in with 148.
Only one team has rushed for more than 140 yards against Altoona.
"Coach Franco has done an outstanding job of establishing what he wants," Ward said. "They're going to try to establish the run. We have to do a great job of limiting how effective their running game is going to be."