Everyone in the WPIAL understands that Altoona's Kevin Givens is an explosive player.
For a quarter at least, Givens helped show the Mountain Lions' big-play potential as a team.
The Pitt recruit, who said after the game he remains "100 percent committed" to the Panthers, scored just minutes into Altoona's game against Butler on a 66-yard screen pass. The Mountain Lions carried the momentum of the play to a 28-10 season-opening victory Friday night at Mansion Park.
"I didn't expect to break it, but it gave us momentum," Givens said. "We ran a lot of stunts defensively that stopped their inside running game. We needed a big game with McKeesport coming in next week."
Givens only touched the ball offensively one more time but played a major role in limiting the Butler offense.
"The Givens kid played a heck of a game," Butler coach Rob Densmore said. "We didn't really have an answer for him."
Butler attempted to double-team Givens, and Jake Scheinberg made the Golden Tornados pay with three first-half sacks.
"[Scheinberg] is probably the toughest kid we have," Altoona coach John Franco said. "He's really, really good on both sides of the ball. But we need to find some guys behind him and Kevin and get more depth when they're not in there. We can be mediocre on the line without him."
Early in the game, Altoona's offense kept up with its defense.
Following Givens' touchdown, Mountain Lions quarterback Devin Miller continued his hot start by finding Luke Adams for a 16-yard score. Butler returned the ensuing kickoff to the 30-yard line, lost 10 yards on its drive and got a net of just 9 yards on its punt as Altoona took over at the Tornados' 29-yard line.
Miller found Sean Steave for a 27-yard completion near the sideline on Altoona's first play of the drive, and Eli Mencer ran it in from 2 yards out to give the Lions a 21-0 lead with 2:41 to play in the first quarter. Altoona put those points on the board in less than 20 minutes of real time but spent much of the remainder of the night struggling offensively.
"I thought in the first quarter we played well in every aspect of the game," Franco said. "We've got to maintain that, and that's what really upset me. We got a little complacent, and you can't do that against a tough team like (Butler). We're not good enough to do that.
"We're trying to change the culture and develop a winning culture, and those are the types of things you have to do. We're on the right track, but in the second and third quarter you can see we have work to do."
After completing his first three passes, Miller went 1-for-7 with just 3 yards at one point before finding Mencer on a 29-yard screen pass. The senior made his biggest mistake on Altoona's first drive of the second half when he tried to throw across the middle in his own territory but was intercepted. Butler cashed in with a Devin Fitz 31-yard field goal.
Altoona responded with its only score of the second half when Mencer capped a four-play drive with a 31-yard touchdown run. Mencer finished the game with 97 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries before leaving after a 27-yard run in the third quarter after cramping up.
"It was very big, and we needed to do that," Franco said. "Our offensive line had been struggling for the last quarter up until that drive. Then we were finally able to run the ball, and that was big because they had the momentum."
Butler, which gained just 15 yards from scrimmage in the first half, tacked on a late touchdown when Damien Pickett broke loose for a 24-yard score, but the winner of the game was never in doubt after the first-quarter scoring flurry by Altoona.
The Lions also won their first game a year ago, 21-0 over Norwin, before failing to win another contest until the season finale.
Franco is hoping that won't be the case this year as he gathered his team in a huddle following the win and implored them to make their mark and knock off McKeesport at Mansion Park next Friday.
"This is all part of trying re-establish and build something," Franco said. "We'll see what happens."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Butler0 0 3 7 - 10
Altoona21 0 7 0 - 28
A-Givens 66 pass from D. Miller (Metzgar kick), 9:00.
A-Adams 16 pass from D. Miller (Metzgar kick), 5:06.
A-Mencer 2 run (Metzgar kick), 2:41.
B-Fitz 31 FG, 9:35.
A-Mencer 31 run (Metzgar kick), 7:26.
B-Pickett 24 run (Fitz kick), 4:51.
RUSHING: Butler-Pickett 11-77, Burdine 14-25, Stepp 4-7, Kuharic 1-5, Kovach 1-0, Dubyak 1-0, Smith 10-(-20). Altoona-Mencer 15-97, Russo 8-32, McConnell 2-5, K. Miller 1-2, Givens 1-1, D. Miller 3-(-15), TEAM 1-(-19).
PASSING: Butler-Smith 0-4-0-0, Stepp 1-1-0-5. Altoona-D. Miller 7-14-1-156.
RECEIVING: Butler-Frost 1-5. Altoona-Steave 2-38, Mencer 2-32, Givens 1-66, Adams 1-16, Russo 1-4.
INTERCEPTIONS: Butler-Hanford. Altoona-none.