The Hollidaysburg Area High School football team has had its nose bloodied in its last two games against WPIAL Class AAA powers.
Now, in a style befitting the movie "Rocky," Coach John Barton would like to see his Golden Tigers come out fighting when they return home on Friday to take on Derry.
"I think we're mad," said Barton, whose team is coming off losses at Thomas Jefferson and Knoch in which they were outscored 90-0. "We were excited to play TJ; they were a great team. But I think all of us felt we could beat Knoch. Unfortunately, they are too good a team for us to play as poorly as we did.
"I think our kids feel they let something get away that they shouldn't have let get away."
The Tigers will take a 2-2 record into this Greater Allegheny Conference encounter, which kicks off at 7 p.m., while Derry is 1-3. It also will be Alumni Night and a game in which Hollidaysburg can ill-afford to trip up if it wants to retain aspirations of qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs for the second time in three years.
"I think it's a very, very important game," Barton said. "We need a win. This is a game where we need to bring out our finest performance of the year."
A good place for that to start would be with the Tigers' traditionally exceptional offense to get back on track after sputtering in the last two weeks. In its first 20 games as a WPIAL member, Hollidaysburg averaged 28.1 points and had not been shut out - Brian Urban and Reid Miller had 100-yard rushing performances in the Tigers' first two games.
Hollidaysburg hasn't managed 150 yards in total offense in either of the last two games.
"Offensively, we didn't execute very well," Barton said. "There are a couple of things with our offense that need to get better: our perimeter run game and our passing game. The bottom line is we need our skill kids to step up."
The offense's cause certainly would be helped if starting guards Reid Brinkhoff and Eric Grassmyer, who've been out for health reasons, are ready to go on Friday night.
The Trojans, meanwhile, look like they could be the ideal foe for the Hollidaysburg offense to get healthy against. Derry already has given up 150 points this season.
Of course, three of the Trojans' four games have been against undefeated Mars, undefeated Knoch and typically high-scoring Indiana.
"It was a good welcome to conference play," Derry coach Al Gaiardo said with a hint of sarcasm. "We found out that we need to stay healthy to be competitive. Against Mars, we lost a few players. Against Knoch, we had five starters out."
Gaiardo hopes to have at least a couple of them back for this week, including quarterback Robbie Hebenthal. Gaiardo doesn't expect Hebenthal to start though; instead, it looks like Josh Wannamaker, usually the starting tailback, will open under center.
Despite the missed time, Hebenthal has thrown for 448 yards. Wannamaker has rushed for 210 and five touchdowns while passing for an additional 121 yards. That has Barton thinking the Tigers need to be on their toes.
"They're physical kids, and they are scrappy. They're fighters, and they run the ball well, and they are going to be tough unless you get after them and get after them hard," Barton said. "Actually, they throw the ball a lot. They do a little bit of it all. We may see something this week we haven't seen before."
Hollidaysburg ran for 335 yards in a 28-7 win over Derry last year and piled up almost 600 yards in a 40-13 victory against the Trojans in 2010.
"They don't run a great deal of a different number of plays. They run the same plays, but they run them from different formations," Gaiardo said. "What they do, they do well. They did well against Greensburg Salem, they did well against Highlands, and they're going to be difficult to stop."