Little Lions will be measuring stick for Altoona in title game
Altoona opened some eyes across the state when it trailed Mid-Penn Conference power Central Dauphin by just one score at halftime last Friday night.
Despite the final score not being what the Mountain Lions were hoping for, they made plenty of progress just one season removed from a 62-0 to the Rams.
Altoona coach Vince Nedimyer hopes his team can pull off a similar turnaround this week when the Lions play State College for the District 6 Class 6A title at Mansion Park tonight at 7 p.m.
“We were up against it, and we saw on film that (Central Dauphin was) good,” Nedimyer said. “But we knew we had come a long way. We went down there pretty beat up last year, and we’re pretty healthy this year. We said as a staff, if we could be within a touchdown after the first half we would have played pretty well and we were.
“They wore us down in the second half. They are pretty big up front, and they have some skill kids that can run, but as a whole, in terms of how we played and how hard we played with our effort and attitude, we were pleased.”
State College also shut Altoona out last year, 48-0, but Little Lions coach Matt Lintal sees a different program on film in 2020.
“Coach Nedimyer does a great job, and I have tremendous respect for him,” Lintal said. “He’s trying to build great young people, and I appreciate and respect that. They are certainly much-improved. They are big up front and have really good linemen on both sides of the football. Their running back (Ethan Stroup) is exceptional, and the quarterback (Marcus Day) is very efficient. Coach Nedimyer knows what he’s doing with the option game, obviously having run it at Rhode Island. We have to be prepared to play assignment football and take care of our jobs on each and every play and make sure guys are doing what they need to do.”
On paper, it seems like this year’s game should be much closer. Both teams have played Central Dauphin. Altoona lost by 29 and State College lost by 22. Both teams have beaten Cumberland Valley by multiple scores, and the Little Lions own a win over Carlisle while Altoona defeated Chambersburg.
State College’s win over Carlisle actually came this week, on Monday. The game needed to be played prior to tonight’s district title game, because District 6 placed a three-game minimum on teams to qualify for the playoffs, and that was the Little Lions’ third contest.
State College didn’t have its first practice with helmets this season until Sept. 22 and didn’t play its first game until Oct. 2 due to tighter restrictions on their program due to high COVID-19 numbers in Centre County.
“This is going to be the most resilient group of kids that we have ever had,” Lintal said. “I had said that about last year’s class with not being able to play at Memorial Field and the changes they had to endure, but obviously this takes the cake. It’s been a challenge, but the thing that has brought us through has been our kids. They have been amazing from July 15 to today at practice. They have been positive, and they show up to work every day no matter what the news is, good or bad, and they are ready to go and excited for this opportunity as a football team.”
Lintal said playing for a district title on a short week will be among the many challenges his team has already faced this year.
“It’s certainly a challenge with all the logistical pieces,” Lintal said. “Everything is more difficult right now. I don’t know how everything shakes out with this ending up a Friday game at Altoona and all of that. I’m not in all those conversations, but it is what it is. We’re ready to play, and we’re never going to turn down an opportunity for these kids to play, even if it’s a short turnaround, we’re going to be ready. It feels like the old adage that we’re walking to school uphill both ways. Every direction we go, it’s an uphill battle, but with this group of kids, they are worth all the effort and worth climbing that hill.”
Star senior running back Dresyn Green has played in just one of State College’s three games and had 10 carries for just 6 yards against Cumberland Valley. However, Lintal said the plan for Friday is for Green to play.
Someone who definitely will be on the field is senior quarterback Conrad Moore. Moore is averaging nearly 10 yards per rush, has 348 yards rushing and five touchdowns and has thrown for 335 yards and four more scores in just three games.
“He’s a special athlete, and he’s really fun to coach,” Lintal said. “I wish I had him for a full season. He’s rushed for more than 100 yards in all of our three games. He’s thrown the ball exceptionally well. His stats don’t reflect some of the drops that we have had, and he had a tremendous game on Monday. He high-jumped 6 feet, 9 inches as a sophomore. He’s an elite-level high jumper, and he has a 4.5 GPA. He also might be the nicest kid around. He’s a captain, a leader and he can play any number of positions on the field. He’s a great young man and has been a pleasure to coach.”
Nedimyer said he’s hoping Altoona can play well and help reignite a football rivalry with its Mid-Penn foe.
“It’s the same thing year in and year out with them,” Nedimyer said. “They are very well coached. Matt does a nice job with them, and they have good skill kids. They are solid up front, and with their technique on defense, they do a nice job. We say it every week that each game is a dog fight on our schedule, and State College is no different. We’re excited. It’s a good rivalry between the two schools. We are just hoping we play well on Friday night.”
The Mountain Lions will be taking the field with much more confidence and understanding of Nedimyer’s system this year.
“I think they are confident and the kids have a positive outlook,” Nedimyer said. “We’re 2-2 and pretty much have been in every game. It’s obviously a lot different than it was last year where at halftime a lot of the time we were chasing. Everyone is excited for the opportunity we have.”