H.S. football preview: Williamsport at Altoona

Williamsport PPG–62, YPG–524; PPA–26, YPA–548

Williamsport facts: A younger generation likely does not know how big a rivalry Williamsport-Altoona once was. This was one of the state’s premier rivalries in different sports and it is nice seeing it being renewed in 2018. This also will be a better test for the Millionaires after they steamrolled Central Mountain, 62-26 in the season opener. Williamsport scored 62 first-half points and the starting offense scored all eight times it had the ball, scoring those touchdowns in just 8 minutes, 16 seconds. Minnesota-bound running back Treyson Potts returned after missing last season with a torn ACL and ran for 150 yards and five touchdowns. All-state quarterback Joe Fagnano made some excellent throws, completing 10 of 12 passes for 250 first-half yards and Marcus Simmons was brilliant after the catch, turning his four receptions into 151 yards and a touchdown. Collin Esposito and Brock Moyer also are dangerous receivers and tight end Nassir Jones looks like a potential weapon. Center Tucker Kreisher is the lone returning starter along the offensive line, but that unit played well and blew defenders off the ball. If that unit can keep jelling and improving, Williamsport will become potentially lethal. Jones was one of the few bright spots for a defense that struggled mightily, allowing 394 first-half yards and three touchdowns. Jones had five quarterback hurries and three tackles for loss. Sophomore linebacker Malik Jones looks like another player who could do some outstanding things the next three seasons. Chase Nye also made a big impact, returning a fumble 35 yards for a touhdown. Williamsport will play six of its last nine regular-season games on the road. The Millionaires are one of four teams that will compete in the District 2-4 Class AAAAAA playoffs and Hazleton was the only other winner in that field last week, giving Williamsport a head start in the race for a first-round home playoff game.

Williamsport player to watch–Dominic Birch: The senior defensive tackle made some nice plays against Central Mountain, finishing with five tackles and a sack. Birch and the defensive line will be key to Williamsport’s development as the defense will have to do its best to give an explosive offense more opportunities.

Altoona PPG–27, YPG–388; PPA–42, YPA–358

Altoona facts: The Mountain Lions showed some explosiveness in a season-opening 42-27 loss to Hollidaysburg. Quarterback Connor McCarthy aired it out, completing 26 of 37 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns. Altoona led 14-7 midway through the second quarter, but a fumble return for a touchdown in the first-half’s final minute put Hollidaysburg up, 21-14 at halftime and changed the game’s complexion. Four Altoona receivers caught five or more passes. Connor Adams is a dual threat who caught seven passes for 82 yards and who also ran for 41 yards on three carries. Isaiah Barnes also caught seven passes and opened the game’s scoring when he hauled in a 9-yard touchdown pass. Williamsport and Altoona briefly renewed their rivarly early in the 2000s, splitting four games from 2002-05. The 2002 game featured a showdown between state-ranked squads that entered 6-0 and Williamsport pulled away in the second half for a convincing win.

Altoona player to watch–Mitchell Lawhead: A versatile running back who can line up in multiple spots, Lawhead led Altoona in rushing and also was a receiving threat. Lawhead caught a 57-yard touchdown pass off a screen and finished with six catches for 86 yards. Lawhead also ran for a team-high 49 yards on 14 carries.

Outlook: Williamsport does not want to rely on its offense simply overwhelming opponents each week because that is a dangerous game to play. Still, this is a strong unit that has the potential to do damage whenever it has the ball. The defense does not have to dominate, but allowing 20-25 points a game can give Williamsport a chance to win nearly any game it competes in, including tonight.