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HS football preview: Portage, AAHS prep for their games

Despite replacing many of its key skill players from last year and losing an entire week of practice due to a COVID-19 case at its school, the Portage high school football team finds itself in a familiar situation, in position for a bye in the first round of the District 6 Class 1A playoffs which begin next Friday.

Before any of that though, the 4-0 Mustangs face a huge challenge when they host Berlin Brothersvalley Friday at 7 p.m.

“We have to slow down their run game,” Portage coach Marty Slanoc said. “Our philosophy is that if they can’t run, they can’t win. It’s a monumental task to slow them down and limit their big plays and get a few of our own.”

The Mountaineers are led by senior quarterback Will Spochart, who has rushed for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns and thrown for nearly 500 yards. Portage lost to Spochart and Berlin, 21-13, last year in a driving rain. While the Mustangs are certainly looking for revenge, they aren’t taking anything for granted after returning to play last Friday with a win over Shade following a week off from practice and games.

“It’s great to be in the playoffs, but our focus is on this week, because we know it could be taken away from us at any moment,” Slanoc said. “We’re playing the preseason pick as the best team in our conference. They are good. We know that. They have everyone back from last year. They beat us in a close game down there last year, and we’re looking forward to them coming here this year.”

Slanoc has been impressed with the resiliency of his squad, which enters the game just ahead of Penns Manor for the top seed in the District 6 Class 1A field.

“It was probably harder on coaches than it was on the kids,” Slanoc said. “The kids seem to handle these situations a lot better than the adults do. We could probably learn something from them, but it was a crazy week for sure having no football activities.”

The Mustangs have been much more balanced offensively this season with Andrew Miko at quarterback and Oren Heidler and Scott Berardinelli splitting the bulk of the carries.

“Individually, a lot of the kids are where we thought they would be,” Slanoc said. “Overall, the selflessness and how they only care about the team and nothing individual has been a great surprise. You don’t get teams like that all time time. It’s great to coach them, and they enjoy being coached.”

Final ‘Toona-up

Altoona is playing just its fourth game and first road contest of the season Friday when it travels to undefeated Central Dauphin.

But with the District 6 Class 6A championship game scheduled for either Oct. 23 or Oct. 24, it will be the Mountain Lions’ final game before the postseason.

“It kind of snuck up on us there,” Altoona coach Vince Nedimyer Jr. said. “It is what it is as I have said even back when we were just scrimmaging. We’re just fortunate and thankful that we’re able to get out there and play on Friday nights. Whatever the schedule throws at us, we’re going to prepare the same way we do every week.”

Friday’s game should definitely provide a challenge going into a likely matchup with State College next week.

“Every week in the Mid-Penn is a battle, and Central Dauphin is definitely that,” Nedimyer said. “They have had a run the last four or five years where they have been really good. They are undefeated with us coming in, and it’s going to be a challenge. But we have to take care of ourselves, protect the football and get lined up. If we do those things, we think we can compete.”

The Mountain Lions are coming off a 42-28 win over Chambersburg but had to hold off their Mid-Penn opponent after it rallied to tie the game in the second half.

“We have responded well to adversity,” Nedimyer said. “When things last year went wrong, the snowball got a lot bigger and we couldn’t stop it. This year, we have been able to respond. If a team scores on us or we get down, our team has done a great job of responding to adversity.”

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