ALTOONA (2-2) at CD EAST (1-3)
7 p.m. Friday, Speed Ebersole Stadium, Harrisburg
ABOUT THE MOUNTAIN LIONS: Most are still getting comfortable with Altoona reclaiming a spot inside the Mid-Penn Conference. Back in November, league officials granted associate membership status to the Mountain Lions, who were football-only members of the MPC from 2004-10 before skipping off to join the WPIAL. Needless to say, Altoona and head coach Nick Felus are excited for the chance to mix it up in the hardened Commonwealth Division. Senior QB Conner McCarthy (496 pass, 6 TDs), senior RB Mitchell Lawhead (230 rush, 2 TDs) and sophomore RB Marcus Day (145 rush, 2 TDs) have led the offense that pushed hard in early wins over Williamsport and Allderdice. The Lions had a bit more trouble against upstart Chambersburg in their first Commonwealth tilt last week. Junior DE Adam Port, SS Lawhead, and senior LB Mike Folcarelli are players to watch on the opposite side.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS: It had to be a difficult week of practice following CD East’s latest test at Harrisburg Saturday. The Panthers looked a bit disinterested, fell behind early, and never found a spark in a rivalry game at Severance Field. Coach Aaron Blanding shouldered the blame for his team’s tepid performance, but the Panthers are now facing a must-win situation at the season’s midway point. Versatile WR Shawn Brown did not play against the Cougars, and his status remains unclear. QB Jeremiah Green took over the position two weeks back and is settling in. He’ll better a recent 3-for-10 effort, but only if RBs James Banks or Bryce Banks can kick in. Obviously, a lot hinges on an offensive line that had made strides despite a staggered start to the season. Consistency is vital defensively, too. MLB Danny Amponsah and OLB Levi Krebs are among the leading tackles for Blanding’s defense, a unit that played terrific vs. Manheim Twp. in the opener.
THE SERIES: CD East and Altoona have split four games since 2004, with the Panthers claiming a 12-7 match in the last meeting in 2009. The Mountain Lions claimed 42-27 and 49-7 victories over CD East in 2008 and 2005.
KEY STAT: Minus-24. CD East’s rushing total vs. Harrisburg last week. The Panthers have considerable talent on the edge but must find a consistent run game to compete vs. Altoona and down the road.
THE PICK: Altoona might be catching CD East at the right juncture. The Mountain Lions and Panthers are each trying to erase sub-par performances from a week ago. And the physical part is important, which team is better prepared mentally should leave Landis Field with a well-earned victory.