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Franklin’s pick-6 seals Mountain Lions’ playoff victory

Photo for the Mirror by Chuck Meyers Altoona senior Edwin Franklin heads toward the end zone on a 92-yard interception return in the fourth quarter that helped Altoona beat Williamsport.

WINGATE — What was once a 21-point lead for Altoona was just 13 yards away from a tie game when Mountain Lions defensive back Edwin Franklin stepped in front of a Frankie Morrone pass and took it 92 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to seal a 29-14 win over Williamsport at Alumni Stadium Friday night.

The victory earned Altoona the District 4-6 subregional championship and a berth in the PIAA playoffs. The Mountain Lions will play District 2 champion Delaware Valley next weekend.

“My heart skipped a beat,” Franklin said. “I saw it coming to me and knew how much this meant to the team. It was like a dream come true. Ever since we have been little kids, this was our dream. I did this for my family. They mean so much to me. When I got to the end zone, I almost cried. I’m so proud of myself and my teammates. We all worked together to get this far.”

Play of the game: Franklin’s interception return, of course. But there were a few key plays that led up to that game-changing moment. On first-and-10 from its own 13 with 7:27 to play leading by seven, Altoona lost a fumble to Williamsport.

The Millionaires tried a quarterback scramble by Dallas Griess, who had come off the bench and sparked a comeback by Williamsport. Griess made several big plays with his legs, including a 27-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, and was 5-for-11 for 74 yards passing. But Griess was shaken up on the run and had to come out of the game for a play.

Starting quarterback Morrone returned and threw the interception, his second in seven passes on the night, to Franklin on second-and-10 with 6:26 to play.

“That’s Edwin Franklin being where he’s supposed to be,” Altoona coach Vince Nedimyer Jr. said. “He drops back, was looking for the curl, and good things happen when you do your job. We had our backs against the ball, and he just made a play. I could not be happier for him.”

Player of the game: Ethan Stroup carried the ball 34 times for 146 yards and a touchdown for the Mountain Lions. He also had a sack and recovered a Keith Freeman fumble at the Altoona 2-yard line with 6:05 left and Williamsport threatening to get back into the game.

Unsung hero: Altoona quarterback Marcus Day rushed for just 14 yards on 15 carries, well below his average, but drew the Millionaires offside twice for first downs. He also threw a touchdown pass.

John Stallworth or Willie Mays?: Altoona wideout Tyreke Green is a standout baseball player who was named the George B. Kelley Federation Rookie of the Year last summer. He flashed some of those skills Friday night by making a tremendous over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone on a 22-yard pass from Day with 21 seconds left in the half to put the Mountain Lions up, 14-0.

“I couldn’t have been happier for Tyreke, because he’s fought his tail off all year long,” Nedimyer said. “In this offense and the way it goes sometimes, that’s all you do is fight your tail off out there. I’m glad he was rewarded. Even better, we named him a captain this week, and he came through with a huge play. Marcus threw him a great ball in the rain, but Tyreke played it perfectly like he was running under a fly ball in the outfield. He made a great catch.”

Most vital statistic: Despite losing two fumbles, Altoona won the turnover battle, 5-2.

Nedimyer Jr.: “Our seniors have stepped up in so many ways the last three or four weeks. They have been really good for us. They don’t get rattled. They line up and do their job.”

Crews: “We had momentum on our side, but we turned around and gave it right back. This game came down to who made the least amount of mistakes, and the Mountain Lions made less mistakes. Kudos to them and best of luck to them next week.”

Crews on Altoona’s improvement since Williamsport’s 31-0 win last year: “They found the right kid at fullback (Stroup), and the quarterback had a year playing the position in that offense. He’s much better this year than last year, and I think he would admit to that. Their line is better, too. When their coach got the job, he committed to that triple option. They committed to it as a team, and we saw the end result tonight.”

Notable: In addition to Franklin, Kyle Pheasant and Aaron Carothers had interceptions for Altoona. Carothers has six interceptions for the Mountain Lions this season. … Griess accounted for 120 of Williamsport’s 210 yards. … Altoona’s next opponent, Delaware Valley, has lost to State College in the PIAA playoffs the last three seasons, including a 38-7 loss last year. … Altoona junior Jake Adams did not dress due to an injury.

Records: Altoona (4-2); Williamsport (6-2).

Next week: Altoona plays District 2 champion Delaware Valley, a 55-30 winner over Hazleton on Friday, next week at a neutral site. Williamsport does not currently have a game scheduled.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Altoona 7 7 7 8 — 29

Williamsport 0 0 0 14 — 14

First Quarter

A–Stroup 8 run (Palilla kick), 7:49.

Second Quarter

A–Green 22 pass from Day (Palilla kick), 0:21.

Third Quarter

A–Day 3 run (Palilla kick), 0:43.

Fourth Quarter

W–Griess 27 run (kick failed), 10:59.

W–Hennigan 7 run (Griess run), 7:42.

A–Franklin 92 interception return (Day run), 6:26.

TEAM STATISTICS A W

First downs 16 11

Total yards 244 210

Rushes-yards 53-164 26-75

Yards passing 80 135

Passing (comp.-att.-int.) 6-9-0 8-19-3

Punts-avg. 3-31 2-32.5

Fumbles-lost 4-2 5-2

Penalties-yards 5-63 8-52

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING–Altoona, Stroup 34-146, Day 15-14, Pheasant 1-7, TEAM 3-(-3). Williamsport, Griess 7-46, Freeman 6-32, Hennigan 9-27, Sims 1-(-8), Morrone 3-(-22).

PASSING–Altoona, Day 6-9-0-80. Williamsport, Griess 5-11-1-74, Morrone 3-7-2-61, Freeman 0-1-0-0.

RECEIVING–Altoona, Pheasant 3-38, Stroup 2-20, Green 1-22. Williamsport, Freeman 4-51, Jones 3-63, Hennigan 1-21.

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