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Tyrone must handle huge BEA offensive line on Friday night

What do you call a team who’s offensive line goes 6-1, 265; 6-4, 290; 6-2, 295; and 6-3, 315?
In a good year, you might hope to call them the Penn State Nittany Lions. This year, they’re called the Bald Eagle Area Eagles.
BEA enters tomorrow’s Big 8 Conference game against Tyrone at 1-3, but don’t be fooled by the won-loss record. The Eagles are a dangerous offensive football team that may have found its niche last week against Indian Valley when they decimated the Warrior defense for 371 yards on the ground in a 45-30 loss.
Running backs Dave Morgan (15-172) and Josh Garner (18-105) each gained over 100 yards and as a team BEA averaged 6.7 yards per carry against a team many figure to finish no worse than second in the conference.
Tyrone coach John Franco said his team will have its hands full trying to contain what has become a powerful BEA running game.
“We’re really impressed with their running game,” said Franco, whose team improved to 2-2 last week with a win over Bellefonte. “Against Indian Valley, they basically ran the ball down their throat. They’re humungous. They’ve got a center that’s 315 (Billy Gomola) and a tackle that’s 295 (Jeremy Garner). They’re almost twice our size.”
And they’re just beginning to realize how good they can be. But their success against Valley was not a huge surprise for coach Curt Heverly, who said he thought his offense could score given its size and skill players. Along with the success of Garner and Morgan, quarterback Mark Fisher has thrown for over 400 yards.
“We wanted to mix it up against Indian Valley, but they couldn’t stop our running game, so we kept going to it,” he said. “We have a nice line and it’s rather large and we have a solid group of skill people. I figured we would have the offense. It’s our defense that we’ve got to fix.”
True, indeed. For while the Eagles are averaging an impressive 24.7 points per game, they’re surrendering 33.5. They’ve twice given up over 40, including 45 in their loss to the Warriors last Friday, and have allowed more than 25 in all but one of their games.
That’s got Heverly seriously concerned as his team plans to face a Tyrone team that is likewise gaining more and more confidence when it has the ball. Tyrone is averaging over 287 yards per game and in the last three weeks has grown leaps and bounds in its ability to mix it up and beat a team in a variety of ways.
There was the 35-0 win over Lewistown where sophomores Brice Mertiff and Ben Gummo each rushed for over 100 yards. There was last week’s 21-14 win over Bellefonte when, limited to 51 yards rushing, the Golden Eagles threw for 149 yards and one score.
Tomorrow, the bottom line for both teams will be coming up with enough stops on defense and putting the game away when the opportunity presents itself.
“We’re hoping to stop their running game,” said Heverly. “But the key is stopping their quarterback (Tyler Mertiff). We’ve watched the films and scouted them enough to know when they like to run the ball and from what formations. But with Mertiff, we’ve got o contain him. You’re never going to shut him down, but we can’t allow him to beat us deep. We’re going to try to keep him in the pocket.”
It’s a strategy most coaches have tried this season and in one way, it has worked. Tyler Mertiff, who rushed for over 300 yards last season, has been limited to just 40 yards on 36 carries this year.
On the other hand, Tyler Mertiff’s composure in the pocket has allowed him to complete just under 50 percent of his passes for 551 yards and five touchdowns.
When teams have geared to stop the pass, Brice Mertiff and Gummo have picked up the slack, rushing for 220 and 319 yards, respectively, while combining for eight touchdowns.
“(BEA is) a team that has given up some points this season,” said Franco. “I like our offense against their defense. They key is going to be stopping their power running game.”
It’s a task made more difficult by the loss of senior linebacker Dan Grazier, who broke his fibula last week against the Red Raiders. In his absence, sophomore Brandon Maceno performed admirably, but at just 5-6, 150 he’ll have his hands full against BEA’s gigantic line.
“We would like to stay in control,” said Heverly. “Our offense will be important. We can’t turn the ball over on the 20 yard line. We have to fight and scrap and I think if we do that we may be able to surprise them.”
The game takes on extra importance because both teams view themselves as ones that can surprise people if they continue to improve and have some things go their way. The Golden Eagles are currently fifth in the District 6-AA standings and would like to continue climbing into a favorable first-round playoff match up. And BEA, though two games under .500, feels a winning season is still something it can attain, particularly if they can start a run with a win over Tyrone.
“We’re just a couple plays away from being 4-0,” said Franco. “If you would have told me that we would be 4-0 at this point before the season started, I would have found that awfully hard to believe. But now that we’re 2-2 and that close to being 4-0, it’s a little frustrating. But I like the progress of our young players and our team. We wanted to get better every week and we have.”
Tyrone hasn’t missed the playoffs since 1994, ironically the last year it fell to Bald Eagle Area. With games remaining on the schedule against Class A power Pius X, unbeaten Indian Valley and 3-1 Punxsutawney, the Eagles have little room for error and can’t afford any bumps in the road.
Even if the bumps happen to be 315 pounds and 65 pounds heavier than any bump in their lineup.
GRID TIDBITS: Senior Aaron Jeffries continues to lead Tyrone receivers. With 6 catches for 87 yards last week, he boosted his season totals to 18 catches for 275 yards and four touchdowns … Grazier’s injury could have him out for the remainder of the season, but in a best-case scenario, he could return as early as four weeks from now. The injury occurred on a non weight-bearing bone … The Tyrone Area School District will honor Dr. Joseph L. Fink III, Dr. Mark S. Mooseker, Dr. Timothy O’Rourke, the Honorable Judge D. Brooks Smith and Dr. Nick C. Leasure as the inaugural Distinguished Alumni class.