HOLLIDAYSBURG - With roughly 16 minutes left in Tuesday night's District 6 Class AAA boys soccer semifinal at Tiger Stadium, Altoona had a prime opportunity to draw even with long time rival Hollidaysburg on a corner kick.
Instead, the Golden Tigers cleared, and Chris Miller sprinted nearly half the length of the field with the ball and fired a laser from 30 yards out into the upper right corner of the net.
It was the exclamation point on Hollidaysburg's season series with the Mountain Lions as the second-seeded Tigers escaped with a 3-1 victory.
"That goal was just an absolute bullet," Hollidaysburg coach Craig Shale said of Miller's blast. "That was just a screamer. It was a beauty. No one was going to stop that. That was the icing on the cake right there."
"That might have been the best shot of my life," Miller said as he explained the play. "I just went at [the defender] with a lot of speed, took it by him and just took a shot."
Miller's insurance tally assured the Tigers (13-3-1) that they would be playing in their fourth straight district title game.
"That's quite an accomplishment," Shale said. "For the seniors to play in the championship each year definitely is a great achievement."
Hollidaysburg will travel to Bald Eagle Area to tangle with top-seeded State College - 4-0 winners over Central Mountain on Tuesday - on Oct. 31.
To say that Miller and his teammates are looking forward to the contest would be an understatement.
"To win the district championship again would be amazing," Miller said. "We won it when I was a sophomore. To win it again as a senior would be awesome."
"We've got the talent," Shale said of Hollidaysburg's chances. "State College is always the team to beat. When you're in a final, anything can happen."
As has been the case all season against Altoona, Hollidaysburg was in control and never really let up.
But after Kristian Mirenda tied the game at 1 - the Lions' only goal against the Tigers in three games - Altoona found a new gear.
The third-seeded Mountain Lions (6-9-4) just could never catch a break, though.
"This was the best game we played out of the three," Altoona coach Dave Alexander said. "We were right there. We just made three mistakes and they capitalized. That's how good teams win - they capitalize on your mistakes.
"We had our chances. They made mistakes. We just didn't capitalize on them."
It was the only point Hollidaysburg looked tentative against the team they dominated all year.
The Tigers won, 4-0, on Sept. 17 at Mansion Park and 2-0 last week on senior night.
"Altoona always plays with a lot of energy," Shale said. "The longer they stay in [the game], the more dangerous they can be. They played well. That's probably the best I've seen Altoona play all year.
"I think there may have been a little worry when it was 1-1. We were supposed to win this game, we've got higher goals of winning District 6. I think in the back of your mind, you think, 'Wow, it's just 1-1. They get one more, sneak a goal, we're in trouble.'"
But that never happened.
Miller broke the tie 13 minutes into the second half on a hustle play on a feed from David Katz. He beat an Altoona defender to the ball and poked it in the net.
"David Katz had the through ball and that's just Chris' game - he's just pure hustle," Shale said. "He just wanted it more. That second goal just gave us that confidence. We needed it."
Tyler Miller scored Hollidaysburg's first goal 21 minutes into the game. Zach Franks assisted.
Down the stretch, the Tigers fired at will on Altoona goalkeeper Joe Smith when Alexander opened up the field trying to chip into the deficit.
Smith made three brilliant saves, including one on a full-extension dive.
"We switched our formation to get another guy up top, so that left the middle more open," Alexander said. "We tried to get another goal to get back in it, but that's what happens when you don't have a guy in the middle.
"I thought we played really, really well. I was proud of the effort that we gave. We're young, so we've got a lot of guys coming back."
SCORE BY HALVES
Altoona1 0 - 1
Hollidaysburg1 2 - 3
First half: 1, H-T. Miller (Franks), 21:19; 2, A-Mirenda (unassisted), 25:42.
Second half: 3, H-C. Miller (Katz), 53:10; 4, H-C. Miller (unassisted), 64:01.
Yellow card: A-Beckel, 70:11.
Records: Altoona (6-9-4), Hollidaysburg (13-3-1).