Altoona takes to the road against WPIAL power

By John Hartsock

Second-year Altoona coach Nick Felus preaches a one-game-at-a-time approach to his players, with the team’s focus always squarely on its upcoming game.

With that being said, the Mountain Lions enjoyed the type of victory last Friday night at Mansion Park that could give the team a surge of momentum for several weeks.

Altoona won in heart-stopping fashion, 48-47 over Hempfield, when senior quarterback Braeden Burchfield hit junior running back Mitchell Lawhead with a 4-yard touchdown pass with only four seconds remaining in the game.

Burchfield completed 23 of 33 passes for 370 yards and five touchdowns as Altoona improved its season record to 2-5.

The rejuvenated Mountain Lions will visit perennial juggernaut Pittsburgh Central Catholic (5-2) this Friday night. Kickoff for the WPIAL non-conference matchup is set for 7 p.m. at Carnegie Mellon University’s Gesling Stadium in Pittsburgh.

Is Felus looking for some carryover from last week’s last-second victory?

“We hope so,” Felus said. “For sure, it was a great night, with homecoming, honoring the 1997 team — there was a lot of excitement going around the program, and we wanted the kids to embrace that and play with some emotion, and I think that we did that.”

Altoona snapped a five-game losing streak behind Burchfield’s heroics. For the season, Burchfield has completed 122 of 226 passes for 1,632 yards and 14 touchdowns.

“He’s been doing a great job of running the offense,” Felus said of Burchfield. “He’s taken command of the offense, and he’s comfortable making decisions. We’ve also done a good job up front, and we have some skill guys who can make plays. That’s a recipe for success.”

Altoona has a pair of senior wideouts, Cam Fasick and Tyler Wagner, who have caught their share of passes this season. Fasick has 42 catches for 432 yards and four touchdowns, while Wagner has 31 receptions for 424 yards and four TDs. In last week’s game, Wagner caught 11 passes for 150 yards and two scores.

‘They have a very good quarterback — he runs well and throws well,” veteran Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said of the Mountain Lions. “They’re very big on the left side up front. Their offense is pretty good. They’re a good football team.”

Central Catholic is coming off a 49-14 shellacking of Butler, which defeated Altoona earlier this season.

Nonetheless, Totten said that his team is still struggling to find its rhythm.

“We’re very inconsistent,” Totten said. “We’re very young — we lost 17 starters from last year’s team, and we’re trying to get some consistency among our young guys.”

Central Catholic — which produced National Football League Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino — has an outstanding senior quarterback this year in 6-foot-4, 210-pound Troy Fisher, who has completed 58 of 91 passes for 613 yards and two touchdowns while running for 213 yards on 45 carries and five scores.

“He’s a winner,” Totten said of Fisher. “He’s been starting three years, he can make all the throws, run the ball, and direct traffic. He’s a good leader.”

Senior back Khalil Weathers is a dual threat for Central Catholic, rushing the ball 22 times for 154 yards (a seven-yards per-carry average), while making a team-leading 13 receptions for another 69 yards.

Altoona senior Tyler Petucci, a standout on both sides of the line of scrimmage, sat out the last series of last week’s game with what Felus described as “little bumps and bruises,” but is expected to be at full tilt for Friday’s game.

“We’re approaching each week as a playoff game for us,” Felus said. “As a coaching staff, we’re excited about how the team has prepared in the last couple of weeks. The players are approaching the task that is hand in front of us.”