HOLLIDAYSBURG - Hollidaysburg was flagged for 13 penalties Friday night - one was negated by an offsetting foul - but one in particular was sure to get under Golden Tiger coach John Barton's skin more than any of the others.
Senior wideout T.J. Keefer made a nice catch and juked the defender blanketing him to the ground before dashing in for a touchdown covering 69 yards in the second quarter. The problem was that Keefer seemed to be doing an audition for "Dancing with the Stars" for the last 5 yards, and the officials assessed 15 yards for taunting against the Tigers on the kickoff in what was then a close game.
"I told him,'' Barton said, "he's better than that.''
Barton wasn't just whistling "Dixie,'' either.
Keefer hauled in two more touchdowns from new starting quarterback Chad Barton and ended up with eight receptions for 228 yards as Hollidaysburg raced past Altoona in the penalty-filled renewal of their backyard rivalry, 41-20, on opening night of the high school football season at Tiger Stadium.
Keefer let out a breath and smiled when told of his final numbers, which far surpassed his ambitions for the first game.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Hollidaysburg’s Chad Barton (left) and Nathan Detwiler (right) congratulate T.J. Keefer after one of his touchdowns.
"I knew I had to make big plays, a couple of catches here and there,'' Keefer said.
Keefer had a 19-yard reception on the game's first play from scrimmage, but that was a mild preview of what was to come. Five of his catches were for at least 17 yards, and his best might have been the shortest - a 5-yarder on which he was well covered but extended the length of his 6-foot-3 frame horizontal to the ground to pull in the ball in the front corner of the end zone.
"I don't think [Nate] Clancy could have had better coverage,'' Altoona coach Tom Palfey said. "[Keefer's] very good. We were going man to try to get pressure on their quarterback, and he made the plays he needed to make.''
Keefer put the exclamation point on his outstanding night after Altoona punched in two scores early in the fourth quarter to draw within 15 points. He took a short pass over the middle broke it back and then outraced Altoona's Mante Barnes down the sideline to cap an 81-yard touchdown.
"Kris Stern's a good running back. He did a good job filling in at running back for Luke Rhodes [who didn't play much offense after breaking his foot over the summer]. That opened things up for me,'' Keefer said.
Stern, mostly toting the ball through holes created in the middle of the line behind first-time starters at guard and center, rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries; he opened the scoring on a 6-yard burst with 6:01 left in the second quarter. Chad Barton, meanwhile, who played wingback most of last season, converted on 12 of 21 passes for 264 yards, even though his running ability was curtailed by a sore knee.
"I felt fine. I was getting great protection,'' Chad Barton said.
Hollidaysburg's offense didn't see much of the ball for the first 14 minutes, when, hindered by two lost fumbles, it ran just eight plays compared to the Mountain Lions' 25. Sixteen of those plays came inside the Hollidaysburg 35, but Altoona didn't get anything to show for the opportunities.
"Undisciplined. Personnel issues,'' Palfey, whose team was penalized 11 times for 85 yards, said of the reasons his team couldn't score early. "I think we ran 70-some plays [actually 68]. If we run 50, we usually win. We can't not capitalize on things.''
Altoona got on the board less than a minute into the fourth quarter when Danny Moyer took a short pass from Connor Abram and turned it into a 58-yard touchdown. After the Lions recovered a third Hollidaysburg fumble, Abram, who finished with 187 yards passing after opening with six incompletions starting in place of the injured Tyler Palfey, scored on a 12-yard run.
"I'm please we were able to overcome all that, the turnovers, the penalties,'' John Barton said. "If you can overcome that and still come out on top, that's a really positive step.''
Game notes: Altoona's DeRon Lee was ejected for a personal foul. As a result, he won't be available when the Lions host McKeesport next Friday. ... Hollidaysburg heads to suburban Pittsburgh in Week 2, playing at Valley.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Altoona0 0 0 20 - 20
Hollidaysburg0 14 14 13 - 41
H-Stern 6 run (Dick kick), 6:01.
H-Keefer 69 from C. Barton (Dick kick), 2:10.
H-Keefer 5 pass from C. Barton (Dick kick), 3:04.
H-Gallagher 44 interception return (Dick kick), 0:47.
A-Moyer 58 pass from Abram (Savino kick), 11:16.
A-Abram 12 run (kick failed), 9:47.
H-Keefer 81 pass from C. Barton (kick failed), 7:30.
H-Glunt 1 run (Dick kick), 2:41.
A-Tornatore 4 run (Savino kick), 0:41.
RUSHING: Altoona-Tornatore 15-67, Abram 9-56, Wilt 8-32, Moyer 1-13, Koch 1-7, Pierce 1-6, Brown 1-3, TEAM 1-(-2). Hollidaysburg-Stern 17-122, Glunt 6-36, Shrift 4-6, Gallagher 1-7, Biddle 1-5, Rhodes 1-3, C. Barton 1-0, TEAM 2-(-3).
PASSING: Altoona-Abram 12-31-1-187. Hollidaysburg-C. Barton 12-21-0-264.
RECEIVING: Altoona-Price 3-46, Wilt 3-37, Moyer 2-79, Pierce 2-0, Steinbugl 1-23, Thompson 1-4. Hollidaysburg-Keefer 8-228, Shrift 3-35, Gallagher 1-1.