By Jim Lane
For the Mirror
After four weeks of disappointment, there were beaming faces all around the Altoona Mountain Lions' locker room Friday night.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Altoona’s Jake Diviney takes off with a pass reception past Hempfield’s Max Adams on Friday night.
The reason was simple: The Mountain Lions were 17-14 winners over Hempfield in a WPIAL Class AAAA Foothills Conference game that made homecoming night especially happy.
"It was nice to see smiles on the kids' faces after so many frustrating frowns," Altoona coach John Franco said. "That was the best part of tonight."
Franco called the game strange, noting the number of penalties that hampered both teams.
"We'd make a great play ... an interception return, and it would be called back," he said. "We made plays that kept being called back, and it was a tough game to play in because you were always in strange situations.
"But, what was good about it ... I think, in the past, our kids might have folded, but no matter what went against them tonight, they toughed it out and kept getting tougher.
"They weren't going to be denied, found a way to win this game, and that was very heartening to me."
Altoona had trouble running the ball - both teams did - but quarterback Brennan Luciano had a solid night throwing, completing 9-of-11 for 128 yards. Jake Diviney was his favorite target, grabbing seven for 64 yards.
"It feels great," Luciano said. "We should be 5-1. We're so close, and I'm glad we pulled this one out. It was closer than it should have been, but it feels good to win."
"Luciano took a beating, but he's a tough kid and hung in there," Franco said. "He makes plays and has made tremendous strides."
Altoona scored all of its points in the first half and held off Hempfield's second-half charge to post its second win in six decisions. Hempfield fell to 3-3.
Sophomore James Metzgar's 22-yard field goal gave Altoona 3-0 lead late in the first quarter before Hempfield took a 7-3 advantage on a 3-yard run by Tyler Straka early in the second.
Diviney's 30-yard interception return set up a 2-yard score by Mante Barnes that put the Lions back on top, 10-7.
"It was really exciting to win," Diviney said. "We haven't won [much] the past two years, and I think it was a good character win.
"I should have gone inside and could have had a touchdown," Diviney said of his interception, "but I went outside instead and they got me."
It didn't matter because Barnes scored moments later to regain the lead.
One minute later, a bad snap on a punt attempt resulted in a 23-yard loss and gave Altoona possession at the Spartans' 4. Avery Howsare scored on the next play to make it 17-7 at the half.
Hempfield dominated the time of possession in the second half but didn't score until 3:53 remained in the game. Ty George and Billy Thomas hooked up on a 9-yard TD to cap an 86-yard drive.
The Spartans had one last gasp, getting the ball at their own 12 with 1:01 left, but they ran out of time against the fired-up Altoona defense.
"It feels good to get one at home," standout senior lineman Austin Rosenberry said. "We've been in a slump and it was good to get a victory.
"Our offense came out strong the first half and the defense played well the first half," Rosenberry said, "but we knew if we wanted to win our defense had to step up in the fourth quarter, and we did."
Game notes: Lions visit Latrobe next Friday. ... Rick Auker, class of 1961 and a former quarterback, was the Lions' honorary captain. ... Meghan Sinisi, representing the majorettes, was crowned homecoming queen at the half.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Hempfield0 7 0 7 - 14
Altoona3 14 0 0 - 17
A-Metzgar 22 FG, 2:11.
H-Straka 3 run (Domit kick), 11:11.
A-Barnes 2 run (Metzgar kick), 7:37.
A-Howsare 4 run (Metzgar kick), 6:38.
H-Thomas 9 pass from George (Domit kick), 3:53.
RUSHING: Hempfield-Trent 6-14, Day 9-12, Straka 2-6, George 6-1, Handlan 1-(-1), TEAM 1(-23). Altoona-Howsare 13-38, Barnes 9-31, Luciano 11-(-21).
PASSING: Hempfield-George 15-25-1-147, Day 9-15-1-93. Altoona-Luciano 9-11-1-128.
RECEIVING: Hempfield-Handlan 11-127, Thomas 4-46, Sphon 4-27, George 2-24, Trent 2-5, Straka 1-11. Altoona-Diviney 7-64, Hancock 1-55, Ward 1-9.
INTERCEPTIONS: Hempfield-Lewandowski. Altoona-Diviney, Dry.