CONNELLSVILLE - It's been a rough season for the Altoona football team.
But on Friday, the Mountain Lions had something to cheer about as they ended a seven-game losing streak with a hard-fought 28-14 victory over host Connellsville in the WPIAL Foothills Conference finale for both clubs.
"This is the fifth time this season we've had a trip of two hours-plus," Altoona coach John Franco said. "It's tough, but these guys played hard."
Eli Mencer and Kevin Givens each rushed for a pair of touchdowns in the victory. Mencer was a force early, scoring twice in the first half on his way to a 159-yard effort on 22 carries. Givens was strong late, scoring twice in the fourth quarter. He finished with 100 yards on 11 carries.
"We got our best offensive lineman [Jake Scheinberg] back and that was key," Altoona coach John Franco said. "Our offensive line blocked well and Mencer and Givens ran hard and that was a good combination."
While the Mountain Lions were able to exhale after a nice victory, there was no such solace for the Falcons.
"We were not prepared to play and that is 100 percent on me," Connellsville coach Dave McDonald said after watching his team's fourth-quarter rally come up short. "I'm 100 percent responsible."
McDonald, who has been dealing with a health issue within his immediate family, has been forced to miss practice time with the team in recent weeks. However, he offered no excuses as his team left the field for the final time this season.
"The kids tried to overcome me by fighting," McDonald said. "But as a coach, I didn't get it done and that's all on me."
One thing the Falcons (2-7, 2-6) couldn't overcome was Altoona's strong running game.
Altoona also played a strong defensive game. The Mountain Lions (2-7, 2-6) made a big play early as Andy Akins recovered a fumble, which led to a three-play drive that culminated in a 34-yard touchdown run by Mencer to give the visitors a 7-0 lead. Altoona then extended its lead with a 12-play drive to start the second quarter. This one ended in a Mencer 10-yard run to make it 14-0.
Both teams bogged down offensively in the third quarter. Altoona's defense came up with two more turnovers as Mencer had an interception and Tyler Wray recovered a fumble.
Then in the fourth, the Mountain Lions seemed to put the game away when Givens scored on an 11-yard run to make it 21-0. However, Connellsville quarterback Jade Maher was just starting to heat up. Maher led two long fourth-quarter drives, and each resulted in a score. The Falcons' signal-caller completed 16-of-25 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. Maher got the Falcons on the board by hitting Austin Puskar on a 23-yard scoring strike. Nathan Norton was Maher's favorite target, catching seven passes for 107 yards.
Trailing by two scores, the Falcons made a defensive stand, then again drove the field as Maher completed a nine-play drive with a one-yard run into the endzone to make it 21-14.
"I think Connellsville is a good offensive team and their quarterback is excellent," Franco said. "We knew that's where they make their money. Connellsville battled and fought."
However, Connellsville couldn't quite complete the comeback, and Givens sealed the victory with a 45-yard touchdown run with just under two minutes remaining. It was a disappointing end of the season for the Falcons.
"They fought to overcome my coaching and I'm proud of them," McDonald said. "We had a great senior class and I'm sad to see them go. It's disappointing that it ended this way."
The Falcons do not plan to play a 10th game, but Altoona is hoping to complete the season with one more exhibition game against a team yet to be determined.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Altoona7 7 0 14 - 28
Connellsville0 0 0 14 - 14
A-Mencer 34 run (Reighard kick), 9:19.
A-Mencer 10 run (Reighard kick), 5:28.
A-Givens 11 run (Reighard kick), 11:35.
C-Puskar 23 pass from Maher (Fogle kick), 7:48.
C-Maher 1 run (Fogle kick), 3;04.
A-Givens 45 run (Reighard kick), 1:24.
RUSHING: Altoona-Mencer 22-159, Givens 11-100, Miller 1-(-17), McConnell 2-7, Lytle 1-0. Connellsville-Knopsnider 5-12, Russell 12-50, Maher 8-(-11), Pariak 5-10, DeMarco 1-6.
PASSING: Altoona-Miller 9-15-0-65. Connellsville-Maher 16-25-1-223.
RECEIVING: Altoona-Reighard 2-8, Steave 4-37, Adams 1-0, Givens 2-11. Connellsville-Norton 7-107, Knopsnider 2-11, Puskar 6-86, Pariak 1-19.
INTERCEPTIONS: Altoona-Mencer. Connellsville-None.