HOLLIDAYSBURG - On a night when the Hollidaysburg and Highlands football teams combined for nearly 600 yards of offense, it was several defensive stops in the final minutes that stood out the most as the Golden Tigers defeated the Golden Rams, 33-26, in the home opener for both teams Friday night.
Hollidaysburg, which led 22-0 early in the first half, got into trouble in the second half when Highlands broke out an offense similar to the muddle huddle or polecat offense, where the Golden Rams had players lined up all over the field.
"We didn't see much of it on tape," Tigers junior linebacker Greg Dinges said. "But we felt we were ready for almost anything. We had some slipups early and allowed some big plays, but then we caught on to it."
Hollidaysburg led, 25-14, at the break. Dinges scored on a 9-yard run in the first quarter, and then quarterback Brian Urban went to work in the second quarter. He scooped up one of three Highlands fumbles and returned it 8 yards for a score. He also hit Kaleb Springer with a 17-yard touchdown pass, sandwiched in between two Eric Miller field goals (20 and 21 yards).
"We were down 22-0 and we felt like we gave it to them with that fumble recovery for a touchdown," Highlands coach Sam Alberts said. "They are a good team, a well-coached team, but you give anyone 22 points and that is a tough comeback."
Highlands scored twice in the second quarter in less than a 3-minute span to cut the lead to 22-14 on a touchdown run by Blake Leri (85 yards), and a Leri 46-yard touchdown pass to Allan Cratsenberg.
Going to what Alberts called his "Confusion" offense in the second half, Highlands cut the lead to 25-20 at the 5:05 mark of the third quarter. The Golden Rams used the offense that Tigers coach John Barton called "a bastardized version of the Muddle Huddle" to move down the field for a 5-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Jackson.
"I felt like our kids ... we just needed to calm down when they got into all their exotics and do what we do," Barton said. "We knew what to look for. We just had to stop freaking out by all the stuff that was going on. It was a challenge, but when push came to shove, our kids stepped up. I was really proud of them."
Using the offense that Alberts brought with him from his stops at Butler, Valley and Freeport, the Golden Rams took a 26-25 lead when Leri scored from 1 yard out with 10:43 to go in the game. The two-point pass attempt failed.
"We jump in and out of it," he said. "Our quarterback did a great job of running it. It all keys off him."
Zane Brunner, however, made the key offensive play after that for the Golden Tigers, returning the following kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Urban's two-point run was good, making it 33-26 in favor of the Golden Tigers.
"Zane is really fast and he had a great camp," Barton said. "We felt like he has come into his own and I am really happy for him."
Highlands had the ball twice in the final 10:21 of the game and was stopped on fourth down on both drives. Reid Brinkhoff recorded a big sack on a first down play for a 10-yard loss, and Dinges and a host of other Tiger defenders were there to stop the Muddle Huddle on a fourth-and-17 pass play from the Tiger 39 with 59 seconds to go to seal the win.
"We were just containing on both sides and it was my job to contain on the left side and I just tried to finish him," Dinges said of his tackle on Jackson for a 20-yard loss on third down before the final pass play.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Highlands0 14 6 6 - 26
Hollidaysburg7 18 0 8 - 33
HOLL-Dinges 9 run (E. Miller kick), 7:07
HOLL-E. Miller 20 FG, 11:51
HOLL-Urban 8 fumble return (kick failed), 11:38
HOLL-Springer 17 pass from Urban (run failed), 6:35
HIGH-Leri 85 run (Masanik kick), 5:18
HIGH-Cratsenberg 46 pass from Leri (Masanik kick), 3:36
HOLL-E. Miller 21 FG, :01
HIGH-Jackson 5 pass from Leri (pass failed), 5:05
HIGH-Leri 1 run (pass failed), 10:43
HOLL-Brunner 95 kickoff return (Urban run), 10:36
RUSHING: Highlands - Leri 16-99, Jackson 5-2, Cratsenberg 2-2, Richards 1-4, Mazur 1-0, TEAM 1-(-9). Hollidaysburg - Urban 24-148, R. Miller 10-23, Dinges 8-22, Brunner 5-0, Hargis 1-1.
PASSING: Highlands - Leri 17-20-2-203, Cratsenburg 0-1-0-0. Hollidaysburg - Urban 7-18-1-83.
RECEIVING: Highlands - Cratsenberg 5-91, Jackson 5-42, Richards 1-3, Flenory 2-38, Mazur 1-5, Fletcher 3-24. Hollidaysburg - Springer 2-22, R. Miller 2-25, Hargis 1-10, Dinges 1-21, Baker 1-5.