HANOVER - When Hollidaysburg senior James Muir intercepted a desperation pass by South Western on the final play of the first half Friday night, the Tigers looked poised to take a 14-0 lead into halftime.
But on a rainy night in York County, nothing was for certain.
Muir coughed up the ball trying to return the pick, and South Western's Kyle King scooped up the loose ball on the 15-yard line and scooted in for the touchdown.
The play only cut Hollidaysburg's lead in half, but that was all South Western needed to get the ball rolling toward a 34-14 win.
"The big thing we tried to emphasize was that we felt we had played a really a great first half and we were still in the lead. It was one mistake,'' Tigers coach John Barton said. "We did a couple of dumb things on that drive. If we don't do some of those things, we'll be OK. Eliminate those mistakes, play smart, play confident and let's go out and get it done.''
Halfway through the third quarter, the game was tied. Less than three minutes later, South Western had a lead it wouldn't relinquish as the Tigers headed toward an 0-2 start.
"You get a penalty. You drop passes. Where we needed a spark, we couldn't get that spark from someone or something. That kind of stuff just wears on you, and it came back to bite us,'' Barton said.
The roles had been reversed in the opening two quarters. Muir sprinted 17 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to cap a 65-yard drive which started when a blitz forced South Western quarterback Ian Smith to fumble. Muir also had a 16-yard run on a key third-down play on that drive.
On the opening drive of the second quarter, South Western muffed the snap on a punt attempt, setting Hollidaysburg up on the Mustang 10-yard line. Three plays later, Luke Rhodes, who finished with 71 yards rushing, bowled through the line for the score. Muir scored the two-point conversion for a 14-0 lead.
Then disaster struck. The two teams traded punts before South Western tried one last drive to score. The Mustangs only gained three positive yards by themselves, but were helped by a pass interference call and a late hit against Hollidaysburg.
That set the scene for King's touchdown. The Tigers could not grab the momentum back in the second half and started to fall victim to big plays by South Western, which scored four times after the break. The home team racked up 231 of its 300 yards of total offense after the half with four plays of 30 yards or more.
Even with the loss, Barton said he would try and keep his players focused on what they accomplished.
"The thing we talk about is, let's see improvement. Winning is what we want, but in the same vein, we want to look at it and see something positive,'' he said. "I think there is improvement. I think we were better than we were a week ago.''
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Hollidaysburg6 8 0 0 - 14
South Western0 7 14 13 - 34
H-Muir 17 run (kick blocked), 3:22
H-Rhodes 3 run (Muir run), 7:36
SW-King 15 fumble return (Smith kick), 0:00
SW-Mummert 2 run (Smith kick), 6:13
SW-Smith 2 run (Smith kick), 3:51
SW-Shipley 52 pass from Smith (Smith kick), 6:07
SW-Sager 40 run (kick failed), 2:13
RUSHING: Hollidaysburg - Rhodes 18-71, Muir 14-51, Barton 2-3, Keefer, 1-1. South Western - Shipley, 7-76, Sager 8-71, Mummert 11-20, McCleary 1-5, Smith 8-0, Myers 1-(-12).
PASSING: Hollidaysburg - Muir 7-20-1-50, Barton 0-1-1-0; South Western - Smith 7-18-2-140.
RECEIVING: Hollidaysburg - Keefer 4-40, Redfoot 1-7, Foreman 1-6, Rhodes, 1-(-3); South Western - Mahorney 2-79, Shipley 3-55, Felton 2-6.
INTERCEPTIONS: Hollidaysburg -Keefer, Muir. South Western - Kyle King.