Golden Tigers open home slate against state power

Homer DeLattre and the Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers celebrated their first win together last Friday.

Their reward is a game against one of the top high school football programs in the state.

After starting the season 1-1 on the road, Hollidaysburg returns home to host undefeated Thomas Jefferson, owner of three PIAA Class AAA championships in the last decade.

Kickoff at Tiger Stadium is at 7 p.m.

“We’re going to prepare as well as we can and be prepared for a challenge,” DeLattre said. “It’s great to be able to play the best. That’s where you want to put your program. That caliber.”

Thomas Jefferson certainly will provide that kind of measuring stick. The Jaguars were the No. 1 seed in the District 7 playoffs last year and, led by Michigan linebacker recruit and quarterback Chase Winovich, the Jaguars have beaten Ringgold and Elizabeth Forward by a combined 73-10. TJ is ranked first in the WPIAL and third in the state in Class AAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News and the Pennsylvania Football News also have them third.

“They’ve got great size up front and a great athlete at quarterback in the Winovich kid,” DeLattre said.

The Tiger players are very familiar with the Jaguars. Thomas Jefferson socked them in the mouth twice last season, including once in the opening round of the playoffs, outscoring them 118-19.

This, though, isn’t the same type of TJ team, according to its veteran coach, Bill Cherpak.

“Last year, we threw the ball a lot. This year, we’re more of a physical, power-type team,” Cherpak said. “We had a great quarterback and receivers last year, so we threw it a lot more. But I love to grind it out and be physical on defense.”

The Jaguars’ go-to guy is 210-pound running back Austin Kemp. Kemp’s already carried the ball 40 times this season for 305 yards and four touchdowns.

While maybe not matching up exactly pound-for-pound with TJ, Hollidaysburg does have some pretty good size up front in its own right. The Tigers were able to use that last week to pile up 453 yards of total offense, springing Reid Miller for 127 of their 337 rushing and getting a second straight 100-yard passing effort from Josh Bickley, to boot.

“I like the quarterback. He can throw and run. I was really impressed with him. I liked the receiver [Ryan Waltz]. [Miller] seems pretty athletic,” Cherpak said.

To make last week’s 36-6 win at Greensburg Salem more impressive, the Tigers did it without senior captain Greg Dinges. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound running back/linebacker should be back in action this week.

“It was a great, team-oriented approach we’ve taken this year, the kids are working hard,” DeLattre said. “Every team in our program won last week. It’s exciting.”

Despite the level of competition the Tigers will face this week, DeLattre said the focus at practice has continued to be inwardly-driven, trying to make his own team better rather than making adjustments to the opposition.

That said, Thomas Jefferson presents a big opportunity for the Tigers to show what they’re made of.

“We’re going to prepare as hard as we can. I don’t think there’s anything we’re going to do different,” DeLattre said.

Surely, last week’s win was a confidence-builder.

“It was pretty exciting to see the hard work the kids have put in the last couple of months pay off,” DeLattre said. “A lot of kids had a lot to do with the win. It’s not ideal to have a long bus road home after a loss. A win creates great confidence, and I’m sure this week at practice the enthusiasm and energy will be there.”