Golden Tigers need win tonight to make playoffs
Coach Homer DeLattre didn’t want his Hollidaysburg Area High School football team backing into the playoffs last year, and he didn’t want the Golden Tigers to get into the postseason that way this year, either.
On the bright side, that won’t be a problem.
Barring some big upsets, the only scenario under which the Tigers are competing in the WPIAL Class AAA tournament next week starts with Hollidaysburg beating visiting Indiana tonight.
“This is a win-and-you’re-in, lose-and-you’re-out scenario,” DeLattre said. “They (the players) are well aware of that, and I’m sure they full understand that.”
Having dropped two straight games and three of the last four, the Tigers find themselves tied for sixth place in the Greater Allegheny Conference with Knoch, a game behind Indiana, Gateway and Mars.
However, if Hollidaysburg and all the favorites win tonight, all five of those teams will be knotted up for third place at 4-4. The top five teams automatically advance to the playoffs, and the sixth-place team has an excellent chance of moving on, too, because of the WPIAL’s tiebreaker system.
Mars would be third by virtue of the tiebreakers, with Gateway fourth and Knoch fifth. That would leave Hollidaysburg and Indiana tied for sixth, but the Tigers would get the nod because they’d have beaten the Indians head-to-head.
The first WPIAL Class AAA wild-card tiebreaker is section record, and there’s a great chance no sixth-place team from either of the other two WPIAL Class AAA sections will finish 4-4 in their conference. Even if one of those teams did, Hollidaysburg has them beat on power points, what the WPIAL calls Gardner points.
If the Tigers lose to Indiana, though, they are most likely to finish seventh in the conference and be eliminated from playoff contention. The only way that wouldn’t happen is for Knoch to lose to winless Yough tonight – Hollidaysburg defeated Knoch head-to-head.
It’s enough to make one’s head spin. DeLattre, though, expects the Tigers to be ready to play tonight.
“These kids have been through a lot this year, and I don’t think that’s going to affect them in any way,” DeLattre said. “It’s senior night. It’s the last night to walk down that small path from the high school to the stadium. That’s always exciting. And, knowing it’s their last time down, I’m sure they’re going to be prepared and focused on Indiana.”
DeLattre was hopeful all-conference senior lineman Zach Simpson might be able to return tonight and play at least one way after missing the last three games, which included losses to Greater Allegheny leader Hampton and traditional heavyweight Mars.
Simpson’s addition would be welcome, especially helping to create holes for an offense that struggled mightily, only scoring 21 points and averaging 1.6 yards per rush attempt in his absence.
DeLattre also didn’t rule out going with alternating quarterbacks again as he did in last week’s loss at Mars, when receiver Ryan Adams shared duties with normal signal-caller Josh Bickley, the Tigers’ leading rusher and scorer. Adams completed 5-of-6 throws last week, while Bickley threw for 107 yards.
“We’re going to try to find a way offensively to create a spark or see if someone can ignite some fire and get some things going for us,” DeLattre said. “It’s just execution and consistency (at the heart of the problems) in running game and passing game, both.”
The Tiger defense has consistently performed well, but Hollidaysburg will almost certainly need to get at least a couple of touchdowns out of its offense tonight. Indiana comes in with a unusual Veer offense that passes as well as it runs and is putting up almost 30 points per game.
“You see this one time a year. They do score a lot of points,” DeLattre said. “They are good at mixing the run and the pass, running the quarterback, running the fullback, pitching the ball to the tailback and running sweeps. And they do a good job in their passing game. They have two receivers who are probably the two best in our conference. It’s a great challenge, particularly for our secondary.”
Jacob Zilinskas, son of Indiana coach Mark Zilinskas, ranks eighth in the WPIAL in passing yardage. Wideouts Riley and Dylan Stapleton have combined for 20 touchdowns.
“It’s kind of do-or-die time. You have the opportunity to control your own destiny with a win. There’s a lot riding on this game. We seem to go through this every year in this conference,” said Mark Zilinskas, whose team clipped the Tigers, 41-24, last year and made it to the second round of the playoffs. “They have a bunch of big kids. They have us on size and strength. That’s going to be a challenge for us up front. Teams have been struggling covering Riley, and that’s going to be a big thing for them.”
A win would also clinch at least a .500 season for Hollidaysburg and give the program its 600th all-time victory. DeLattre, though, seems most concerned with what it does for the Tigers next week.
“We’re a couple of plays from getting a very high seed and playing in a home game, and here we are fighting for our lives,” DeLattre said. “But, if we can get by this game, and I’m confident we will, I feel moving ahead in the playoffs we have as good a chance as anybody.”