After opening the 2011 season with a 55-13 loss at the hands of archrival Altoona, the Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers will take to the comeback trail this week against an opponent that they handled easily a year ago.
But Hollidaysburg coach John Barton won't be taking anything for granted against Valley of District 7, even though his team rolled up a 37-0 victory when the two teams met last year in New Kensington.
Barton knows that his Tigers can hardly afford to do so in Friday's 7 p.m. WPIAL, non-section rematch with Valley at Hollidaysburg's Tiger Stadium.
Valley, led by 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore quarterback Ty Matthews, opened its season with a 23-16 overtime loss to Burrell last week. Matthews - who saw considerable varsity playing time last year as a freshman - threw for about 200 yards and also tossed a touchdown pass in last week's game. He also had two other touchdown throws called back because of Valley penalties.
"They're very athletic, and they have big-play capability,'' Barton said of the Valley squad. "Their quarterback is returning from last year. He has a nice, strong arm and he can be pretty elusive. They have very good players at the skill positions. It will definitely be a closer game this year.''
Mark Kaczanowicz - who is also the athletic director at Valley - is in his first year as the team's varsity football coach. Kaczanowicz coached the school's ninth-grade program last year, while the varsity squad posted an 0-9 record.
Kaczanowicz was encouraged by what he saw from his team in the second half of last week's game.
"We didn't play particularly well in the first half, but in the second half, we played very well, and took it into overtime,'' he said. "We feel very good about that. We're going to keep working at it, and eventually, things are going to come around.''
Valley is a young team which starts five sophomores on offense and four on defense.
"We don't have more than two seniors on the field at any one time,'' Kaczanowicz said. "We're pretty much a sophomore-junior dominated team. Our strength is in our skill positions, and we have very good team speed. I would hope that our kids would give a better account of themselves [against Hollidaysburg] this year. Last year, they beat us pretty good. This year, we're going up there, and we hope to be competitive.''
Topping the Tigers' to-do list will be to vastly improve on a defensive effort which allowed Altoona to compile 448 total yards in last week's opener at Mansion Park.
"Defensively, we want to do a better job of tackling,'' Barton said. "We want to play with better leverage, and be in better position.''
Led by senior slotback Rafeeq Barnes, who scored twice and accounted for a combined 220 yards rushing and receiving, Altoona unleashed a potent offensive attack that left the Tigers trailing, 27-6 at halftime.
'They did a nice job of getting the ball to their athletes, and putting them in position to make plays,'' Barton said of the Mountain Lions. "They have good team speed, they move well, and they have some big dogs up front. We obviously want to improve, get back on the right track, and bring our best game this week.''
Barton said that the condition of senior running back Evan Ruggles - who left last week's game with an injured ankle in the third quarter and did not return - has been improving.
"He's getting better,'' Barton said of Ruggles, who rushed for 46 yards on six carries and a touchdown last week. "He's possible for this week.''