The odds that Hollidaysburg Area will make it through the regular season and compete in the WPIAL Class AAA football playoffs look very promising.
The odds that the Golden Tigers make it there in one piece? Well, that's pretty much gone out the window already.
A litany of injuries have overcome the Tigers in recent weeks, leaving Hollidaysburg coach John Barton scrambling for answers and a lineup as his team faced the meat of a demanding schedule.
Mirror file photo by J.D. Cavrich
Hollidaysburg’s Zach Simpson tackles Hampton’s Anthony Bianco in a WPIAL game earlier this season.
"We were doing some good things. We were doing it with a lot of guys being injured," Barton said. "We didn't have [Kaleb] Springer and [Dan] Fleck. Then Luke Aigner got hurt. Greg Dinges got hurt. Eric Grassmyer got hurt. It just started adding up."
With Springer, Fleck and Dinges still likely out, Barton and the Tigers will try to clinch a playoff spot tonight when they host Mars, one of the teams tied for first in the Greater Allegheny Conference, at Tiger Stadium at 7 p.m.
Mars is 6-1 and 5-1 in the conference. Hollidaysburg brings a 3-3 record into conference play and is 3-4 overall but only has won once during a five-game span that included four teams that now have at least five wins.
Game: Mars Planets (6-1) vs. Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers (3-4)
Where: Tiger Stadium, Hollidaysburg
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Mars - Scott Heinauer (136-75, 20th year); Hollidaysburg - John Barton (97-101-1, 19th year)
Series record: Mars, 1-0
Last meeting: Mars, 52-20 (Nov. 5, 2010)
"There's not a whole lot you can do, but, I'll be honest with you, I'm proud of the guys that have been getting in. Some guys have really held the rope. That's all you can ask," Barton said. "There's a reason you have starters and a reason you have backups, but, in the same vein, when those guys go in, they have to do the job. I've seen a lot of positives.
"I don't want to be trite, but the next man up has to go."
If they can get the job done tonight, there's a good chance they'll leave the field having clinched the fifth and final automatic playoff berth from the conference. With one game left, the Tigers would own at least a one-game lead over Highlands - who they'd already beaten. The only other team that could catch Hollidaysburg would be Indiana, but it has to beat 5-2 Knoch on the road to make its season finale with the Tigers meaningful.
For its part, Hollidaysburg has had a rough go against the conference and WPIAL elite, having been outscored 153-14 against the four best teams it's played so far.
However, the Tigers have been more competitive since losing 55-0 at Thomas Jefferson and 35-0 at Knoch. They equaled Hampton in total yardage but couldn't come back after spotting the Talbots a four-touchdown advantage two weeks ago and only trailed Franklin Regional 14-0 at the half last week before giving up three touchdowns in the third quarter to blow the game open.
"We were in a tough game against a tough opponent [Franklin Regional] and out kids came in and played hard. We just had trouble getting things going offensively. We're still having trouble synching up a little bit," Barton said. "Defensively, we were doing a lot of good things and doing it with a lot of our kids being injured. Our kids are playing hard."
Mars lost for the first time this season last week to its rival, Knoch, 21-0.
"We struggled offensively. That's probably the first time that's happened this season," Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. "I think our kids were very, very upset after the game, and rightfully so. I think they realize they're going back to where they were before. A lot of them said in the locker room after the game, 'Coach, we're going to practice harder next week.' We know Hollidaysburg is not going to be easy.
Sophomore fullback Josh Schultheis only had 71 yards against Knoch, but that was enough to put him over 1,000 for the season in the Planets' wing T. As a team, Mars is averaging 303 yards rushing.
Barton's very familiar with the Planets and their running game; Mars beat Hollidaysburg in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs in 2010.
"He runs hard and has good speed, and they try as many ways as they can to get him the football," Barton said. "Their other [running backs] are good, too, so, if you get too locked into him, those other kids can bust a big play on you, as well.
"On defense, those guys are pretty good. They don't give up a lot of points. They aren't the best team to heal your offense against."