Lions, Tigers meet again

Blair County teams last played in 2011

It’s been seven years since Altoona and Hollidaysburg have opposed each other on the football field, but the rivarly will be renewed tonight at 7 p.m. at Mansion Park, making the season-opener extra special for both programs.

“It’s exciting for the kids and the community,” Hollidaysburg coach and athletic director Homer DeLattre said of the Golden Tigers renewing their rivalry with Altoona. “Rivalries like this one, as well as Bellwood-Tyrone and Central-Northern Bedford, who also play (tonight), are really good for high school football in the area.”

This is DeLattre’s sixth season as the Hollidaysburg coach, and he’ll be experiencing the Altoona rivalry first-hand for the first time.

The two schools last met in football in 2011, with Altoona taking a convincing 55-13 victory.

“There have been several years where we haven’t played each other,” DeLattre said. “The kids from both schools know each other and play a lot of other sports against each other. It’s great for them to play football against each other again.”

Altoona, which has left the WPIAL to return to the Mid-Penn Conference this year, has the pleasure of hosting tonight’s big rivalry game. The Mountain Lions will return the visit to Hollidaysburg next year.

“It’s great, not only to play your cross-town rival, but (Hollidaysburg) is a great program, and I have a lot of respect for them and the things that they’ve done with their program,” Altoona coach Nick Felus said. “That makes it exciting all around.

“I think it’s going to be electric with the communities coming together,” Felus said. “I think it will be a really fun atmosphere. It’s been awhile since we played, and we’re trying to get that excitement back up. I think everybody is looking forward to it. It’s a great way to start the season.”

Altoona, coming off a 2-8 season last year, will key on playing situational football successfully this season.

“We’ve been stressing playing situational football well,” Felus said. “We want to win the third downs, the one-on-ones, the goal-line situations. If you can take care of situational football and you can win those battles, then you will be successful.”

Hollidaysburg comes off an 8-4 season a year ago that included a victory over Grove City in the District 6-8-10 Class 5A championship game. The Golden Tigers’ offense is led by senior quarterback Brady Walters, who was fifth in the Mirror coverage area in passing yardage last season, completing 101 of 206 attempts for 1,565 yards and 19 touchdowns.

“He allows us to mix the run and the pass well, he gets us in the right plays at the line of scrimmage, he does a great job of protecting the football, and he’s accurate with the (pass),” DeLattre said of Walters. “The execution in the passing game is going to be critical (tonight). We have to keep their defense off-balance. Their defense can be very aggressive, and when their defense is setting the tempo of the game, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Altoona graduated quarterback Braeden Burchfield, who was second among area passers with 2,075 yards on 165 completions in 308 tries for 16 touchdowns last year.

The Mountain Lions will start senior Connor McCarthy at quarterback tonight.

“He’s a good athlete,” Felus said of the 6-foot, 155-pound McCarthy. “Last year, we played him at wide receiver, but he got hurt in the first game and he missed the rest of the year. He’s bounced back from that injury and taken command of the offense. Quarterback is his natural position — he played it in ninth and 10th grade. Through this offseason, he did some things to prepare himself to play.”

Felus also gave kudos to senior widedout-free safety Connor Adams.

“Connor Adams has really stood out,” Felus said. “He’s one of our seniors who we expected to be a leader, and he’s done that. He’s the quarterback of our defense, and we’re moving him from defensive back to free safety this year. Offensively, he is a good route-runner who has big-play capability every time that he touches the ball.”

Felus has been pleased with the energy of his team this preseason.

“I’m really pleased with the way we’ve approached the last two weeks as far as our mental preparation at practice,” Felus said. “The kids have been pretty focused, and I’m really impressed with how physical they’ve been and with the energy they’ve brought to practice.”

Tonight’s game will be televised locally on WHVL (Channel 2 on Atlantic Broadband).