Altoona has night to savor
As I sat down in the Mansion Park press box for Altoona’s District 6 Class 6A championship game Friday night, I sent out a tweet about the two latest high school football games canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’d heard about them earlier in the day, but had avoided sending it out because I just was tired of it. Tired of reporting about canceled games, deleting preview stories I had already written and replacing them with stories about missed opportunities or teams forfeiting.
This, of course, is after we lost the entire spring scholastic season and six area teams vying for an opportunity at a PIAA basketball championship never got the chance in March.
It’s not a stretch to say 2020 has been the worst year in many peoples’ lives, and that goes well beyond high school sports.
But Friday night reminded me that special things can still happen within the chaos we’re all living.
The Altoona Area High School varsity football team has struggled for much of the past 20 years, and even though the two teams didn’t meet while the Mountain Lions ventured into the WPIAL, State College has built a program that has simply been superior to Altoona for a long time.
When Vince Nedimyer Jr. was hired before last season, he did not lack confidence in Altoona’s ability to get it turned around. When he overhauled what had been a no-huddle, up-tempo offense and replaced it with a run-heavy, ball-control offense, it raised several eyebrows across Blair County, especially after a 1-9 season in 2019 in which Altoona failed to win a Mid-Penn Conference contest.
But following a 31-0 victory over the Mountain Lions early last season, Williamsport coach Chuck Crews said he wouldn’t want to play Altoona once they got Nedimyer’s system figured out.
Well, Crews is going to get the chance to see it a little sooner than he may have thought after Altoona upset State College, 22-21, in the title game to set up a District 4-6 Class 6A regional against the Millionaires this Friday night at Bald Eagle Area.
Nedimyer talked about how he saw improvement from his team in all the summer previews. He said his team expected to win its opener against Cumberland Valley. He didn’t panic when the Mountain Lions fell to Hollidaysburg. Altoona took care of business against Chambersburg and gained even more confidence by playing Central Dauphin tough for a half on the road.
Not many believed Altoona was going to beat State College Friday night, but many were intrigued to see how much progress it made from last year’s 48-0 loss.
Seeing all the good vibes on the field after the game from players who had been counted out before the season even started and from crying parents on Mansion Park’s turf who never thought they would even be allowed to watch their kids’ games is something I’ll never forget.
Altoona might lose this week or even worse possibly not even play. Everything is unpredictable in 2020, but no matter what, we got at least one very special scholastic sports memory for the area. So, as bad as it’s been, let’s be thankful for that.
District 6 officially released its playoff schedule for this coming weekend, which is of course subject to change.
Hollidaysburg will return to action after two weeks off to play Central Mountain for the District 6 Class 5A championship at Mansion Park on Saturday at 1 p.m. That same night, Tyrone will take on Central for the Class 3A championship on the same field at 7 p.m.
Bellwood-Antis will host Richland in a Class 2A semifinal on Friday night, and Cambria Heights will travel to Marion Center to play the other semifinal on Saturday.
Williamsburg will travel to Homer-Center for a Class 1A quarterfinal game Friday night, and on Saturday, Juniata Valley will make the trip to Portage after Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic plays at Conemaugh Valley earlier that day at 1 p.m. in another 1A quarterfinal.
In area District 5 action, Northern Bedford will play Tussey Mountain in a Class 1A championship rematch from last year that went down to the wire and was won by the Titans at Hollidaysburg on Friday at 7 p.m.
Chestnut Ridge will travel to Windber for the 2A semifinal on Friday. That same night, Bedford will play at Clearfield for the District 5-9 Class 3A subregional championship. The winner of that game will play the winner of the Tyrone-Central game next week in the PIAA playoffs.
Michael Boytim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter