Although it lost handily to state power Thomas Jefferson last week, Hollidaysburg Area High School football players and coaches left the field feeling they were getting close to turning the corner.
If the Golden Tigers do that with a critical stretch of the schedule upcoming, though, they'll have to start it off without a couple of key performers.
As Hollidaysburg embarks on a three-game stretch that might make or break its season when it hosts Knoch tonight at 7 p.m. at Tiger Stadium, the 1-2 Tigers will do so without either starting quarterback Josh Bickley or two-way starting lineman and co-captain Reid Brinkhoff.
Tiger coach Homer DeLattre had no comment other than to confirm neither player would play. The players both were healthy when they left the field last week, and it appears their absence is not football-related.
Their losses would be considerable. Bickley is third in the area in passing yards and second on the team in rushing - he accounted for Hollidaysburg's only offensive touchdown last week against TJ. Brinkhoff was third-team all-area as an offensive guard in 2012.
The show, though, will go on, and this adversity might just show everyone what these Tigers really have.
Game: Knoch Knights (2-1) vs. Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers (1-2)
Where: Tiger Stadium, Hollidaysburg
When: Tonight, 7 p.m.
The coaches: Knoch - Mike King (73-82, 16th year); Hollidaysburg - Homer DeLattre (53-66, 12th year)
Series record: Knoch, 1-0 (first met in 2012)
Last meeting: Knoch, 35-0 (Sept. 21, 2012)
DeLattre, at least, is hoping so.
"When we're playing consistent, we've shown we can compete with some of the better teams. With the rest of our schedule coming up, I feel if we can play at a higher and higher level and get better every week, I feel that we can compete. And I think the kids believe that," DeLattre said. "When we play with great energy and great enthusiasm, we're capable of doing great things, and that's where our focus is.
"These next three games are critical on our schedule. We have a three-game stretch with Knoch, Derry and Hampton. I think, if we're consistent, we can win all three games. So this stretch is very important for us."
Senior Caleb Parnell, who battled Bickley for the starting spot throughout camp and into the first game, seems likely to open under center. DeLattre, though, also was giving sophomore Ryan Adams a chance to earn the nod or, at least, some playing time.
Parnell is 5-for-10 passing for 34 yards and had a 25-yard run in Hollidaysburg's week 2 win at Greensburg Salem.
"We installed the offense, and all of our quarterbacks can do any of our stuff. We can do the two-back stuff, the single-back stuff, with any of the quarterbacks," DeLattre said. "It's an option offense, and I feel confident, no matter who it is, is going to be able to execute."
DeLattre still will have some weapons to put around them. Reid Miller checks in with 142 yards on the ground, while junior Ryan Waltz tops the entire area in receiving yardage and has caught four touchdown passes.
The Tiger defense bottled up Thomas Jefferson's powerful ground game in the first quarter last week, forcing the Jaguars to go to the air for the first time this season in any real degree, and junior Michael Roberts ranks among the state leaders with five sacks already.
"I think we have our hands full with Hollidaysburg. I think they're improving. I think Homer's doing a great job," Knoch coach Mike King said. "It should be a good game."
Knoch comes in with a 2-1 record after a 58-7 dismantling of Derry last week. The Knights' other win was against 0-3 Trinity of Washington. Knoch lost its opener to Greensburg Salem, 20-14.
"It's a process where kids who've never played varsity football before have to learn to play the game across four quarters," King said. "I think Greensburg Salem was a pretty tough lesson for us to learn, but we've improved over the last couple of weeks."
Knoch was 7-3 last year, pinning a 35-0 defeat on Hollidaysburg on its way to the playoffs, forcing four turnovers in that game. These Knights have a lot of new faces: Cody Milsom leads the team in rushing with 302 yards on 68 carries, while Daniel Farinelli has thrown for 367 yards on 22-of-53 passing. Three Knights have at least five receptions.
"They live on the big play. I think on every drive they've scored on this year there's been a 20-or-25-yard play involved. We've just got to try to manage those and eliminate those if we can," DeLattre said.
In its 36-6 win over Greensburg Salem, Hollidaysburg's defense gave up 175 yards, and it displayed some hard hitting in the loss to Thomas Jefferson.
"I think we're prepared to see a multiple-formation team [like Knoch]," DeLattre said. "[Defensive assistants] Todd Consiglio and R.J. Albarano are doing a great job."
DeLattre appears to be at the point where this team is to be measured by wins and losses, though, and not just playing competitively.
"Our mistakes are usually huge mistakes," DeLattre said. "But, when they play with energy and intensity, they do do well. We just need to focus on the consistencies of every play trying to be perfect."