Frustrated teams squaring off at Mansion Park

John Franco will admit to you that patience isn’t a virtue he possesses in abundance.

He’s probably bit his tongue more than ever this year when it’s come to developing his young, varsity-inexperienced Altoona Area High School football squad, though, but the time to settle for anything less than results is rapidly approaching, if not here.

“I feel we should be picking it up faster. There’s no doubt about it,” Franco said. “We’re not satisfied with slow and steady. There’s certain expectations I had at each position. We’re not getting it.”

Franco will be looking for results tonight when the Mountain Lions return home to Mansion Park with a 1-5 record to meet a Latrobe team that’s also 1-5.

Kickoff for the Foothills Conference tilt is slated for 7 p.m.

Franco and Latrobe coach Ray Reitz have been friends since they were teammates together at IUP, and Franco sees a Wildcat team who has been dealing will much the same issues as his own squad – some good signs with little to show for it in the end.

“I’ve followed them pretty closely, and I just had to shake my head like, ‘man, we are experiencing the same things,”’ Franco said.

The Wildcats opened the season with a two-point loss against perennial WPIAL Class AAAA power Gateway, fueling hope that the program could turn a corner after winning just twice last year.

That hope since has turned into frustration. The Wildcats’ only win was a 20-8 non-conference victory over Fox Chapel, while they’ve lost to Hempfield by 21, Norwin by eight, Penn-Trafford by 20 and McKeesport by 25.

“It’s tough when you [come close and] come up empty. But the reason we’ve come up empty is our own fault,” Reitz said. “We play good in the first half, but, in the second half, they say teams make adjustments, but we aren’t coming out with the same intensity for whatever reason.

“I feel for John. John’s a good man, and [our teams] are very similar. They’ve played everybody tough.”

Franco’s biggest task has been taking a pair of juniors – Eli Mencer and Devin Miller – who have never played quarterback before this season and teach them the position with no returnees around them. That’s one area where Reitz and Latrobe are on solid footing: The Wildcats’ focal point is 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior signal-caller Logan Carns.

Carns leads the team in rushing as well as passing and even has played a little receiver when a shoulder injury early in the year forced Reitz to shuffle things. Against Gateway, Carns rushed for 136 yards and three touchdowns, and he ran for 137 yards versus Norwin. He’s thrown for more than 110 yards each of the past two games, although he sat out much of the second half against McKeesport with an injury that’s not expected to keep him off the field tonight.

“Our quarterback I think is one of the better quarterbacks in the WPIAL, but, because he plays for us, he’s not getting the notoriety. I think he’s a Division I kid,” said Reitz, who coached Oakland Raiders starting QB Terrelle Pryor at Jeannette.

Franco, though, is a believer. Carns made things interesting when the teams met last season, guiding the Wildcats to more than 300 yards – rushing for more than 80 and throwing for 200 himself – in a 34-23 Mountain Lion road win.

“He is outstanding. He might be all-around, one of the best, if not the best, we’ve seen,” Franco said of Carns. “He did a number on us last year. He kept making play after play.”

Defense has been Altoona’s most consistently strong area this season, although the Lions have surrendered more than 300 yards and 30 points in each of their last two games. Carns will present a big challenge.

“If you rush him in the pocket, he can make his throws as good as anyone. But we’d prefer that, because he is just so dangerous on the run. He could definitely beat us just by setting up in the pocket and finding the open receiver, but he’s of playmaker status when he breaks contain and takes off,” Franco said. “It’s choosing the lesser of two evils. We have to do it that way, because we saw last year when he can do when he takes off.”

Altoona’s offense showed some signs of life last week. The Mountain Lions had their third-best game of the year running the ball and their best night of the year from a passing yardage standpoint, scoring multiple touchdowns for the first time since week 1.

“I can’t stand losing, but it’s not so much the losing as it is I don’t feel we’re playing the best [we can].” Franco said. “You can throw that on me. I’m supposed to get the best out of them, and I don’t feel that I’ve done that, either. I’m still searching for ways.”