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Road doesn’t get any easier for Golden Tigers

September 20, 2012
By Philip Cmor ( , The Altoona Mirror

Last week, the Hollidaysburg Area High School football team went on the road for the first time this season and lost its quarterback and the game by 55 points to one of the WPIAL's top programs.

This week, the Golden Tigers go from the school of hard knocks to playing a hard game at a school named Knoch.

The Knights are the defending WPIAL runners-up and are off to a 3-0 start this season. Kickoff on Friday night at Saxonburg in Butler County is 7 p.m.

"You see a little bit in the game in terms of how your kids respond to the adversity we had, but, more importantly, how you rebound from that tells you a lot," Tiger coach John Barton said of how this Greater Allegheny Conference game will serve as a gauge for his team coming off last Friday's loss at three-time PIAA Class AAA champion Thomas Jefferson. "It'll be interesting."

It certainly was a dramatic swing for the Tigers, who were coming off a 24-0 win over perennial nemesis Greensburg Salem just seven days before being routed at TJ. Thomas Jefferson scored 34 points in the first quarter and finished with almost 500 yards - Hollidaysburg only had given up 474 yards in its first two games, a big and important improvement for a unit that had been largely maligned since the school joined the WPIAL in 2010.

"I think we're OK. I'll have a better idea later. Based on [the players'] attitude, I think they're ready to put that behind them and move on to the next game," Barton said. "Defensively, I think we've been doing a better job stopping the run. Now, if you look at last week's stats, it's a little deceiving. They opened up with their passing game, and, once they jumped on us, our kids were a little bit out of their element, and we did some things we haven't normally been doing."

It didn't help either that Hollidaysburg lost one of its top defensive players, safety Brian Urban, partway through the game. Urban also has been one of the sparks for the Tigers offense, rushing for 187 yards, 4 yards more than Reid Miller for the team lead.

Urban, though, will be back on the field Friday.

"He'll be fine," Barton said. "In the old days, he would have come back in. With the precautions we take now, it would have been advisable not to."

It's a good thing that the Tigers will be at or near full strength, because Knoch is considered among the stronger teams in the conference this year.

"I call them more run-oriented than pass-oriented, but they can throw the ball. They do a lot of things offensively," Barton said. "They're just tough kids. They play hard. They're not overly big, but they run well, and they're physical."

The Knights' Ben Tackett is tied for first in the WPIAL in scoring with 11 touchdowns and is 11th in rushing with 458 yards. However, Knoch's biggest strength is on defense - it's only allowed 28 points this season.

Last year, in making the WPIAL Class AAA finals, Knoch held 10 teams to eight points or less.

"I think our defense, particularly our defensive line, has been doing a tremendous job," Knights coach Mike King said. "It's nice, particularly when you have a quarterback coming in who's a little bit inexperienced, to be able to have that defense to carry the day."

King said he doesn't have a lot of familiarity with the Tigers, but he doesn't put a lot of stock in last week's result. Both teams have early wins over Greensburg Salem, Knoch winning at home by 14.

"Their offense reminds me a lot of our offense. They do a lot of things formation-wise, so they defense has to be ready to adjust," King said. "Everything they do seems to be very sound. That impresses me the most. I think they just caught TJ on the wrong night."

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