Tigers have faced off against Gators in the past
Who: Hollidaysburg vs. Gateway
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Where: Mansion Park, Altoona
Records: Golden Tigers (8-3); Gators (12-1)
By Philip Cmor
When you reach this point in the high school football season, Pennsylvania playoff teams often measure their campaigns by how long it is until they’ll run into the WPIAL champion.
District 7’s reputation as a breeding ground for state championship contenders has been earned over decades to the point that teams from the southeastern part of the commonwealth often can take the field in the postseason with a psychological advantage over their opponents, just based on what their predecessors have achieved.
Hollidaysburg shouldn’t be in that kind of awe, though. The Golden Tigers, until 2015, were part of the WPIAL themselves, and the District 6-8-10 champions are intimately familiar with Saturday afternoon’s PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal foe, Gateway.
“The last time we played in that conference, we beat Gateway and Franklin Regional. The kids who are seniors on this team were sophomores then, and we beat (Gateway) in JV that same weekend,” Tigers coach Homer DeLattre said.
DeLattre and the Tigers can extract confidence in that as they face the 12-1 Gators, 3,000-yard passer Brady Walker and superstar freshman Derrick Davis at Mansion Park at 1.
Hollidaysburg brings an 8-3 mark into the contest after coming back to knock off previously-unbeaten Grove City in the subregional final last week. That was the Tigers’ first playoff win since 2008. This time, they’ll be trying for their first interdistrict playoff win — outside of subregional competition — since the late Harold Price’s 1993 team bested Brashear.
“It was very exciting to see those guys celebrate and be so happy (after beating Grove City),” DeLattre said. “The community, the people coming in to buy tickets have been talking about. I’m sure they have with the kids, too.”
It was apparent that the environment wasn’t too big for the Tigers from pretty early last week. Although Grove City came in 11-0 and hadn’t really faced many challenges, Hollidaysburg knew it already had faced athletes as good and probably better and deeper in Class 6A powers State College and McDowell along with perennial Maryland state championship threat Fort Hill.
When Hollidaysburg departed the WPIAL two seasons ago, putting together an independent schedule could have been extremely problematic. Playing bigger schools was something of a necessity. The Tigers also were able to play Central, which went to its second straight PIAA Class 3A semifinal last year with Penn State walk-on Alex Hoenstine and almost beat District 7 champ Beaver Falls. So, Hollidaysburg didn’t just make the best of a tough situation, DeLattre, also the school’s athletic director, made it work.
“We tried to get the quality opponents on our schedule to put us where they’re at,” DeLattre said. “I think that helped us a lot. Also, playing the Pittsburgh City League teams, they might not be great teams, but they possess a lot of speed.”
That should come in handy this weekend. Gateway avenged its only loss of the season in the WPIAL championship against Penn-Trafford.
“They have skill everywhere. They’re loaded with skill players,” DeLattre said.
First and foremost among them is Walker. A three-year starter, Walker enters the game having completed 231 of 365 passes for 3,597 yards and 38 touchdowns.
“I inherited Brady as a starter,” said Gateway coach Don Holl, who is in his second year with the Gators after stints at Tunkhannock, Cathedral Prep and Seneca Valley. “It’s a blessing to have a guy like that to lean on, and he’s done everything we could have asked.”
Courtney Jackson leads the receiving corps with 70 receptions for 1,466 yards, but four other Gators have at least 20 catches this season, including Davis, a running back. Davis, however, is considered an even bigger talent on defense, and, although he plays linebacker for the Gators, 247Sports reported earlier this week that Penn State was close to offering him a scholarship as a defensive back.
“We did feel we had a pretty talented group coming back, so we thought we could be in the conversation (for a district title),” Holl said. “We felt we were as capable as anybody of staying in the hunt.”
Holl is a Cathedral Prep product, so he is familiar with DeLattre through the latter’s time at Corry.
“We went over there for a seven-on-seven the one year when he just started and was trying to get it off the ground, and I know him through some (Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association) stuff,” Holl said. “Reputation, and on a personal level, I’ve always been very impressed.”
Leading the charge for the Tiger defense that will have to contend with Walker and Davis is linebacker Gus Dellinger, who made 17 tackles and intercepted a pass against Grove City. Cornerbacks Dylan Allison and Trevor Miller and safeties Michael Day and Jack Sauserman will be challenged in the secondary.
Offensively for Hollidaysburg, Patrick Young enters the game needing 58 yards to reach 1,000 this season, while quarterback Brady Walters surpassed the 2,000-yard mark in total offense last game. Sauserman is the leading receiver with 34 catches and 13 touchdowns.
Hollidaysburg also is looking for a home field advantage with the game being played in Altoona.
“We’re hoping to get a lot of support. We have a lot of kids coming home from college. It’s pretty cool to have a chance to play here,” DeLattre said.