District 4-6 Class 6A championship: Altoona vs. Williamsport
Background: Altoona and Williamsport once was a fierce rivalry and with the success both are having next year, it could be starting up again. Both teams have met in the last two seasons with the home squad win via shutout each time. They were supposed to play in the regular season this year before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted things. Altoona captured its first District 6 championship since 2002 last Friday when they erased a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and defeated State College, 22-21.
Altoona PPG–24.8, YPG–356.4; PPA–27.6
Altoona facts: The Mountain Lions have made enormous strides in coach Vince Nedimyer’s second year, going from 1-9 to district champions. Nedimyer transitioned Altoona from an up-tempo, pass-happy team to a physical, smash-mouth oriented team. It took some time, but Altoona has embraced the change and features two players who would be 1,000-yard candidates during normal circumstances. Altoona revealed its toughness and character with that dramatic victory against State College. The Lions scored 15 unanswered points, pulling within one with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining before going for 2 and converting when Kyle Pheasant ran it in. Jake Adams clinched the victory with a last-second interception. Quarterback Marcus Day is a versatile threat and the 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior ran for 116 yards and three touchdowns while adding 50 passing yards. Day is a physical runner, as is leading rusher Ethan Stroup (578 yards), and has run for 499 yards and a team-high 10 touchdowns. He also has thrown for 354 yards while topping 100 rushing yards twice. Altoona is 3-0 when Stroup goes over 100 yards and he produced 123 hard-fought yards against State College. The 6-2, 200-pounder has run for 578 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He ran for a career-high 234 yards in a 42-28 win over Chambersburg. Tyreke Green has caught five passes for 106 yards, averaging 21.2 yards per catch. The defense stiffened in the fourth quarter against State College and forced two key turnovers. Linebacker Connor Reimer averages 7.4 tackles per game and defensive back Edwin Franklin has 1 1/2 sacks. Altoona played state power Central Dauphin tough for a half before losing, 49-20.
Altoona player to watch–Aaron Carothers: Carothers has intercepted five passes and came up huge against State College. Carothers intercepted two passes and his second set up Altoona at midfield for its game-winning drive. He has intercepted passes in four different games and also has 12 breakups. He added eight tackles and forced a fumble against State College.
Williamsport PPG–32.3, YPG–309.6; PPA–13.3, YPA–223.4
Williamsport facts: Like Altoona, Williamsport has made a major rebound this season, doubling its win total and reaching its first district championship since 2016. The Millionaires endured a challenging week leading up to the final, playing state power Harrisburg and defending 4A Eastern Region champion Dallas in a five-day span. Altoona learned a lot from the Central Dauphin game which helped it against State College and Williamsport did so following the 41-0 defeat against Harrisburg. The Millionaires recorded their second shutout and scored on six of their first eight possessions, defeating Dallas, 48-0. Williamsport’s defense has not allowed more than 18 points in a game and has surrendered just 20 in its last four victories. Nassir Jones has an area-high 8 1/2 sacks and fellow lineman Charles Crews is coming on strong with three sacks in his last two games as well as four tackles for loss against Dallas. Dade Splain has been strong in the middle of the defense, linebacker Riley Bower returned a fumble for a touchdown against Dallas and Sebastian Robinson and Nasir Hennigan are among the team’s leading tacklers. Andre Mullen had a tackle for loss against Dallas and Roman Morrone added five tackles. Quarterback Frankie Morrone has topped 1,000 yards after starter Dallas Griess broke his collar bone in a preseason scrimmage. Morrone threw three touchdowns last week and is tied for second among area quarterbacks in touchdowns. Jones, Keith Freeman and Cam Sims all have caught at least 16 passes and four touchdowns. Freeman is dangerous as a running back and wide receiver, totaling nine touchdowns. The offensive line struggled in the first half against Dallas, but played well in the second half as Williamsport showed excellent balance. That has been a trademark all season with rushing and passing numbers being within 200 yards of each other.
Williamsport player to watch–Joel Feleppa: An excellent offensive lineman on Montoursville’s 2019 District 4 Class AAA champion has made a smooth transition to Williamsport has proven an asset on both sides of the ball. Feleppa has added depth for both units and was active against Dallas, helping slow its inside running and making three tackles, including one for loss.
Winner plays: District 2’s champion, DV or Hazleton
Outlook: Unlike the last two games in this series, expect this one to be close throughout. It is an intriguing matchup between dangerous teams built in different ways. As often is the case, however, look for this one to come down to who wins the battle up front.