Mountain Lions facing challenge
After dropping their last two games to Norwin and Butler on the road, the Altoona Area High School football team returns to the friendly confines of Mansion Park to host Peters Township Friday night.
According to Mountain Lions coach Nick Felus, Altoona will be looking across the line of scrimmage at a team whose style of play mirrors its own. Kickoff for the WPIAL Southeastern Conference matchup is set for 7 p.m.
“Peters Township presents a great challenge,” Felus said. “They’re very similar to us on both sides of the ball. They have good athletes on the edge of the field, and they’re a run-pass option team that can get pretty creative in trying to get the ball to their players in space.
“They have a big quarterback who can throw the ball well, and a couple speedy receivers who they want to get the ball to,” Felus said of the Peters Township team, which carries a 2-1 record into the game. “They try to create mismatches with (the opposing team’s) linebackers and secondary.”
The Peters Township quarterback is senior Jake Cortes, who, at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, possesses Division I size.
Through three games this season, Cortes has completed 35 of 59 passes for 477 yards and six touchdowns. His favorite target is 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore wideout Josh Casilli, who has caught 12 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns.
Peters Township (2-1 overall) lost its conference opener to Bethel Park, 28-7 last Friday after opening the season with wins against Chartiers Valley (45-13) and Seneca Valley (13-8).
Altoona (1-2 overall, 0-1 conference) opened the season with a 35-34 home-field victory over Allderdice, then lost to Norwin (24-0) and Butler (45-28) on the road in the next two weeks.
In last week’s game at Butler, senior quarterback Braeden Burchfield had a big game for Altoona, completing 13 of 25 passes for 169 yards and three touchdowns.
In three games this season, Burchfield has completed 46 of 84 passes for 576 yards and five touchdowns.
Felus said that Burchfield has been making great strides since the beginning of the season for Altoona.
“Our quarterback has been doing an outstanding job of being a leader,” Felus said of Burchfield. “He’s a warrior and a relentless competitor. He gets after it. He’s playing like a senior needs to play.”
Senior wideout Cam Fasick caught 10 Burchfield passes for 128 yards in last Friday’s game. Two of the catches were for touchdowns.
Altoona trailed the game, 28-21 at halftime before Butler pulled away in the third and fourth quarters, building a 45-21 lead.
“We had field position the whole first and second quarter, but we just kind of got worn down a little bit in the second half,” Felus said. “They held on to the ball and made some key third-down conversions in the second half.”
Despite the Mountain Lions’ 1-2 record, Felus has seen promising signs from his team in the first part of this season — particularly from Altoona’s offensive and defensive fronts.
“I think we’re making tremendous progress up front offensively,” Felus said. “Offensively, we’re getting better up front, and it’s the same thing with our defensive line. We’re playing with a lot of energy and a lot of passion.”
Felus hopes that passion will help the Mountain Lions get back on the winning track Friday night.
“I know it sounds cliche, but we want to go 1-0 this week,” Felus said. “We just need to make plays in all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — because the team that makes the most plays wins the game.
“We’re just excited to compete again, excited to be back in front of the home crowd and playing in one of the finest facilities in the state of Pennsylvania,” Felus added. “That’s always great.”
Several calls placed by the Mirror to Peters Township coach T.J. Plack were unreturned before this story went to press.
Game: Peters Township Indians (2-1) vs. Altoona Mountain Lions (1-2)
Where: Mansion Park, Altoona
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Peters Township — T.J. Plack (6-7, second year); Altoona — Nick Felus (3-10, second year)
Series record: Altoona, 1-0 (first met in 2016)
Last meeting: Altoona, 40-37 (Sept. 16, 2016)