Bob Palko has been coaching football at West Allegheny for 19 years now, but he still remembers those first playoff trips with the Indians.
And the lessons he learned from them.
"You've got to do things differently [in the playoffs]," Palko said. "You want to keep the habits the same, the routines the same, but you've got to be in a whole different [mental] mode. Where one game doesn't make a season, now one game can be your season."
Palko has won six WPIAL Class AAA titles since then. Homer DeLattre and his youthful, underdog Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers will try to stop Palko from getting a chance at No. 7 when DeLattre makes his WPIAL postseason coaching debut tonight in Imperial on the west side of Pittsburgh against the top seed and defending champions in a District 7 first round playoff game.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The Tigers enter tonight's contest as the fifth place team from the Greater Allegheny Conference sporting a 3-6 record. They'll be trying to snap a three-game losing skid.
"I want to see us play hard for four quarters. We'll let the score take care of itself," said DeLattre, who came to Hollidaysburg over the summer after 11 years coaching at Corry. "I don't think we did that against Franklin Regional and Mars, some of the better teams we played this year. I think we did that against Thomas Jefferson. We need to make sure that's the case."
Thomas Jefferson, also undefeated, is the second seed in the 16-team bracket. There was some thinking that the Tigers might get TJ again, but the tournament committee seeding them 16th, one spot behind Hampton, whom Hollidaysburg had beaten on the road early last month.
"It was their decision. I'm sure in all the years the WPIAL has been doing this, there've been a lot of good and bad decisions made. We're still with it," DeLattre said when asked for his opinion of the seeding and the draw.
In West Allegheny, Hollidaysburg receives not only a challenge, but a very interesting challenge. The Indians (9-0) have scored 37 points or more eight times this season. However, leading rusher Chayse Dillon only has run for 795 yards, and quarterback Andrew Koester only has thrown for 1,040.
Tory Delmonico leads the team in receiving (20 catches) and touchdowns (18) and is second on the Indians with 629 yards rushing. He also has the most carries on the team, 94.
"They do a lot of stuff," DeLattre said. "They'll give you about 30-40 different looks offensively. We're going to try to keep what we do simple and basic to combat all the things they do."
That would seem to be a big problem for Tiger defense that has allowed 54, 69 and 41 points over the last three games. DeLattre, though, doesn't think those numbers tell a full tale and the scars on the Hollidaysburg defense were not all from self-inflicted wounds.
"I think the biggest problem there has been being able to move the ball offensively," DeLattre said. "We haven't been moving the ball enough and taking enough time off the clock. When you get the ball at the 20, go three-and-out and give them the ball at the 50, that makes your defense give up more points. That's been a common occurrence."
The 24 points Hollidaysburg scored last week was its third highest total this season.
Palko knows DeLattre through their involvement with the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association. He complimented DeLattre, but also knows what the first-year Hollidaysburg coach is up against.
"You see a young team. You see a lot of young mistakes. But you see a team that hustles and works hard and gets to the football and competes," Palko said. "When you look at each individual person, you're like, 'That kid works hard. That kid looks good. Then you get into the execution things. Those are the things that come with time, come with patience."
But the WPIAL playoffs are indeed a different animal. Because the seeding is done by a committee and not through a point system, teams don't find out who they are playing for sure until just five days before the game. DeLattre's usual work of giving the team the game plan was moved back to Tuesday, as a result.
"Experience helps. We were wet behind the ears at one time, too. It's just a matter of do you have the kids ready for playoff mode," Palko said. "Talking to Home, I think they're young, and they're looking forward to the future. I like some of their players."
"We have an extra week of practice. This is a great opportunity to get better for everybody," DeLattre said. "There's no JV game. There's nothing to worry about for Saturday. We're just going to go over there Friday and play."