Lawhead snags winning score in final seconds

Photo for the Mirror by Chuck Meyers Altoona’s Mitchell Lawhead catches the game-winning touchdown with four seconds remaining on Friday night.

Words can’t do justice to this one.

It wasn’t the best game ever played, but Altoona’s 48-47 victory over Hempfield in a WPIAL Southeastern Conference game Friday night has to go down as one of the most exciting played at Mansion Park in a long, long time.

Altoona quarterback Braeden Burchfield, who did everything imaginable, tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell Lawhead with only four seconds left to lift the Mountain Lions to victory.

“Awesome. Just awesome,” beamed Altoona coach Nick Felus. “My hat’s off to the kids and the coaches for their work ethic.

“It shows how far we’ve come and what could be in our future,” Felus said. “It was a total team effort — something we’ve been striving for — and to do it on homecoming was just great.”

The win snapped a five-game losing streak and moved the Lions to 2-5 on the season. Hempfield (1-6) lost for the sixth straight weekend.

There were many stars in this one, but none shone brighter than the quarterbacks — Altoona’s Burchfield and Hempfield’s Justin Sliwoski. Sliwoski connected on 13 of 24 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a pair of scores.

That was nothing, however, compared to Burchfield. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Altoona senior hit 23-of-33 passes for 370 yards and five — yes, five — TD passes. Burchfield also ran for one TD while gaining 83 yards rushing. He also intercepted a pass and blocked an extra point that prevented Hempfield from tying the score at 42-all with 5:08 left in the fourth quarter.

“Hats off to Braeden Burchfield,” said Lawhead, who caught the game-winning TD. “He kept us composed. He knew what he was doing. He’s the true team leader.”

The homecoming crowd had plenty to cheer about all night — and some disappointing moments, too.

When Sliwoski and Nick DiAndreth hooked up for a 40-yard scoring play to give Hempfield a 47-42 lead with only 1:20 left, it looked like the Lions’ great effort would end in disappointment.

But, Burchfield had some heroics left. Lawhead returned the kickoff 23 yards to the Altoona 29 and Burchfield did the rest, moving the Lions 71 yards in eight plays (aided by a facemask penalty) for the improbable win.

Cam Fasick and Tyler Wagner made clutch catches as Burchfield marched the Lions downfield with time ticking away. A 10-yarder to Wagner on a fourth-and-1 put the ball at the 10 with 20 seconds left. A 6-yarder to Wagner moved it to the 4 with eight seconds to go and then came the big one — the 4-yarder to Lawhead in the right corner.

“We practice that two-minute drill everyday,” Felus said, and Burchfield and Lawhead concurred.

“I broke my wrist four weeks ago and I wasn’t supposed to play offense tonight,” Lawhead noted. “But, when Tyler Petucci got hurt, I had to go on offense.

“I saw the backer wasn’t playing me,” Lawhead said, “so I told Burchfield to throw the wheel to me because I would be open. I wasn’t even thinking how I’d catch it with the cast.”

Burchfield said he was confident on the game-winning drive.

“The receivers kept getting open,” he said, “and I kept thinking about the touchdown, and we got it.”

When the final seconds ticked away, the Altoona players exploded onto midfield to mob Burchfield and Lawhead.

“We had opportunities, but hats off to Altoona,” Hempfield coach Rich Bowen said. “They put together that winning drive, and we couldn’t stop them.”

Game notes: Altoona was hit with 13 penalties for 131 yards. … Linebacker Petucci and defensive tackle Gaige Hill made several sacks. … One of the game officials suffered an injury when he got in the way of a running play. After a 15-minute delay, he was carried off the field on a stretcher and transported to an area hospital. … Several members of Altoona High’s 1997 team, which was unbeaten in the regular season and advanced to the state semifinals, served as honorary captains. … Jennifer Worley, representing the soccer team, was named homecoming queen. She was escorted by Masen Nartatez. … Lions travel to Pittsburgh Central Catholic next Friday.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Hempfield 7 14 14 12 — 47

Altoona 14 14 14 6 — 48

First quarter

H–I. DiAndreth 45 pass from Sliwoski (Persin kick), 11:15.

A–Petucci 53 pass from Burchfield (Eisel kick), 5:56.

A–Burchfield 3 run (Eisel kick), 4:36.

Second quarter

H–Sliwoski 16 run (Persin kick), 7:26.

A–Petucci 1 run (Eisel kick), 4:20.

H–Brose 50 pass from Sliwoski (Persin kick), 1:17.

A–Wagner 40 pass from Burchfield (Eisel kick), 0:48.

Third quarter

H–Gockle 5 run (Persin kick), 9:27.

A–Barnes 76 pass from Burchfield (Eisel kick), 8:07.

H–Roby 50 run (Persin kick), 6:14.

A–Wagner 10 pass from Burchfield (Eisel kick), 4:10.

Fourth quarter

H–Sliwoski 1 run (kick failed), 5:08.

H–N. DiAndreth 40 pass from Sliwoski (run failed). 1:20.

A–Lawhead 4 pass from Burchfield (pass failed), 0:04.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: Hempfield–Ruby 9-67, Gockle 14-46, Critchfield 1-3, Sliwoski 15-(-1), I. DiAndreth 1-(-3). Altoona–Burchfield 16-83, Petucci 12-35, Barnes 1-12, Adams 1-5, TEAM 1-(-2), Lawhead 1-(-6).

PASSING: Hempfield–Sliwoski 13-24-1-240. Altoona–Burchfield 23-33-0-370.

RECEIVING: Hempfield–I. DiAndreth 5-118, Brose 5-89, Walters 2-17, N. DiAndreth 1-16. Altoona–Wagner 11-150, Fasick 5-50, Barnes 2-75, Petucci 2-67, Adams 2-24, Lawhead 1-4.

INTERCEPTIONS: Altoona–Burchfield.

TEAM STATISTICS H A

First downs 20 21

Rushes-yards 40-112 32-127

Passing (comp.-att.-int.) 13-24-1 23-33-0

Yards passing 240 370

Total yards 352 497

Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1

Penalties-yards 6-52 13-131

Punts-avg. 4-35 5-33

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