Hollidaysburg controls its destiny tonight

There’s been a lot of buzz going around Blair County this week that Hollidaysburg and Altoona might be renewing their rivalry on the gridiron next week.

Just don’t ask Golden Tigers coach – and athletic director – Homer DeLattre about it.

Hollidaysburg still has a very realistic chance that its 10th week opponent will be determined by the WPIAL and not him: The Golden Tigers, who should finally be at full strength, can make the Class AAA District 7 playoffs by beating Indiana at home tonight.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Tiger Stadium.

“People have approached me [about a 10th game], but we haven’t given it serious consideration because we’re not thinking in the negative,” DeLattre said, referring to a loss tonight. “We’re going to win the game, and we’re going to get ourselves in the postseason.”

Hollidaysburg and Indiana both are 3-5 overall and tied with Hampton at 3-4 in the Greater Allegheny Conference behind Mars, Franklin Regional and Highlands. If the Tigers win tonight, they’ll finish fourth in the section even if Hampton pulls off a huge upset of Mars – the top five finishers make the district tournament.

Even if Hollidaysburg doesn’t win, there’s a chance they’ll advance as a wild card. That’s what happened last year when Indiana edged the Tigers 17-13 in the regular season finale but Hollidaysburg advanced instead of the Indians through a point-differential tiebreaker between three teams; Hollidaysburg stopped Indiana late at the 1-yard line.

Not only do the Tigers have multiple routes to the playoffs, the even better news is that DeLattre said earlier this week that he expected to have leading rusher Reid Miller and quarterback Josh Bickley back for the game. Both missed the Tigers’ game at Mars last week, a 69-14 loss.

“It seemed like they both will be ready to play,” DeLattre said. “We should have our original lineup.”

Two of Hollidaysburg’s wins came with Bickley starting under center, including what has turned out to be a huge win at Hampton when he passed for 230 yards. Hollidaysburg is 1-2 when Bickley hasn’t played because of injuries or off-field issues.

With those players out – as well as a number of other key players like Reid Brinhoff and Greg Dinges from time to time, Hollidaysburg has had others step up. Last week, Colton Ruggery was a bright spot in the lopsided loss, rushing for 110 yards. He became the fourth Tiger to rush for at least 75 yards in a game this season.

“It’s no excuse. We have back-ups and guys who are able to replace them. They’re doing a good job as replacements,” DeLattre said when asked about the impact of rarely having his whole team available in his first season at Hollidaysburg. “We like to have our guys at full strength, and this week we will.”

Considered by coaches as a solid contender in the conference heading into the season, Indiana has been snake-bitten by injuries itself. Indians coach Mark Zilinskas, though, expects his team to be as health as it’s been in a long time when it takes the field tonight with the playoffs on the line.

“We feel fortunate to be in a position to still compete for a playoff spot in the end. We did have high expectations because we did return a lot of people. It’s just been one of those years that’s been up and down for us. We’ve had a lot of key guys get hurt,” Zilinskas said.

Indiana also was highly regarded because of its athletes. The Indians are an Veer option team, but they also have thrown for more than 1,000 yards this season with the threat of receivers like 6-foot-5 Temple recruit Darrious Carter and 6-4 junior Riley Stapleton. They have 57 catches between them.

“We have to be able to contain. That’s something we haven’t done in the last couple of weeks. We have to be able to tackle in space. That’s something we haven’t been able to do in the last couple of weeks, as well. They have great speed and athleticism,” DeLattre said.

Zilinskas recognized a lot of Tiger returnees from his team’s bittersweet win over Hollidaysburg last year and thought the Tigers’ size up front would present a challenge.

“They’re a tough football team, and they’ve played people tough all year long,” Zilinskas said of Hollidaysburg. “I think this is a great matchup. In this conference, it always seems to go down to the end.”

“We need to be able to run the ball. We need to be able to take time off the clock,” DeLattre said. “We’ve had a lot of three and outs and we’ve put a lot on our defense. We can’t do that.”