Faced with an unfamiliar opponent doing unusual things, Hollidaysburg found a way to emerge with a win to start of the high school football season last week.
"Our kids found a way to adjust. That's a good thing," Golden Tigers coach John Barton said of his team's 33-26 victory over visiting Highlands. "More than anything, they found a way to succeed in a difficult circumstance. That was huge."
With that under their belt, the Tigers will try to move to 2-0 for the first time in two years on Friday when they host a team that has given them fits since they joined the WPIAL, Greensburg Salem.
Kickoff at Tiger Stadium is 7 p.m.
A victory over the Golden Lions would do more than exact a measure of payback for 47-35 and 62-6 losses the last two seasons, Barton said.
"It's a [Greater Allegheny Conference] game, so it's really important. We won our first conference game. We'd love to win our second one," Barton said. "You start out with two wins, you have some confidence, and you have some money in the bank in terms of those conference wins."
Greensburg Salem comes into the game following a 28-14 loss at Knoch, a defending WPIAL Class AAA finalist. That loss was somewhat deceptive, though: The Lions outgained the Knights, 268-119. However, they turned the ball over five times and surrendered a 93-yard kickoff return for a score.
"Jumping right into conference play makes it difficult. Everyone was accustomed to getting non-conference games the first weeks to get your feet wet. Opening with a team that played at Heinz Field was very difficult for us," Greensburg Salem coach Casey Cavanaugh said. "There were some positives we can take from it. Obviously, you can't turn it over five times against a good team and hope to win. Individually and collectively, we had some positives to build on."
The brightest performance was that of tailback Tyler Shook, who rambled for 148 yards on just 12 carries and scored on a 78-yard run.
The Lions graduated much of last year's skill talent but return a veteran offensive line.
"They're fast. They run well, and their skill kids are very good. That's the strength of their team," Barton said. "You have to eliminate - or at least keep to the bare minimum - the number of big plays that they have or are capable of making."
That's been more than the Tigers could accomplish in their last two cracks at Greensburg Salem. Last year, the Lions averaged more than 10 yards per play in running away from Hollidaysburg. In 2010, Hollidaysburg spotted Greensburg Salem at 27-0 lead, came back to tie with a big third quarter but then gave up three touchdowns in the final period.
"Two years ago, it was more of their kids making some big plays. Last year, we didn't consistently move the ball at all. We have breakdowns here and there, and they were able to come up with the big play," Barton said.
Hollidaysburg looks like it might be capable of giving the Lions a taste of their own medicine this year. Quarterback Brian Urban rushed for 148 yards in the opener and scored on a fumble return, while Zane Brunner won the game with a 95-yard kickoff TD in the fourth quarter last week.
"We've been fortunate the last couple of years, but it's a really well-coached team with very impressive offensive skill," Cavanaugh said. "Defensively, I know Highlands threw some crazy things at them that presented a couple of problems, but I felt they got to the football and tackled well. It's going to be a formidable task for us."