Tyrone prepares for new look from Lewistown for Homecoming

Lewistown coach Rob Reeder looks at his team’s game Friday against Tyrone at Gray Veterans Memorial Field as more than just a chance for the Panthers to improve to a game above .500.
For Reeder and the Panthers, it ‘s a chance to gain legitimacy for a program that hasn’t had a winning season in more than 25 years.
It’s an opportunity to turn the heads of nay sayers who each year scoff at the notion that Lewistown can field a team capable of competing on the highest level.
“This is a huge game for us,”* said Reeder. “It would mean an awful lot for our program.”
Imagine how the Panthers would feel if Tyrone was, say, 1-1 instead of 0-2.
But that’s where the Golden Eagles are, winless in the third week of the season for the second straight year. But this season is different from last, when injuries, illness and graduation had Tyrone fighting an uphill battle from the first week of summer camp.
This year, Tyrone has had its opportunities, but according to coach John Franco, the inability to piece together four quarters of football has led to a frustrating start.
“We’ve played well enough to win two games,” he said.” We haven’t yet put together four quarters of good football. We have gone through periods in each game where we didn’t execute. Itâ’s been frustrating. Last year, we were just licked, but now it’s a little disappointing because we’ve played two games and could easily be 2-0.”
Take away all but one quarter from the Eagles’ games against Bellwood-Antis (15-17) and Huntingdon(22-29), and in all likelihood they would be 2-0. But somewhere in the second quarter of each game, the Eagles made costly mistakes that ultimately led to defeat.
Against the Devils, a costly holding penalty and two blown coverages in the secondary turned what could have been a 14-0 halftime lead into a 17-7 deficit. Last week at Huntingdon, poor kick coverage and turnovers turned a 7-7 tie into a 22-12 Bearcat lead at intermission.
In two games, the opposition has outscored Tyrone 31-6 in the second quarter, while the Eagles have carried quarters 1, 3 and 4 29-14.
“It’s important for us this week to play four quarters of football,” said Franco. “We’ve outscored our opponents in three of four quarters in every game, so far. We need that first win. We need that taste of what it’s like.”
As is not often the case, getting that first win against Lewistown is anything but a lock. The Panthers are 1-1 (1-1 Big 8), and doing some interesting things offensively with a new-look, wide-open system that was adapted from an offense run in the early 1990s by Juniata College. The system uses four and five wide receivers, starts from the shotgun, relies heavily on quick reads and passes, and often runs without huddles.
Through two weeks, it’s proven moderately effective, with two quarterbacks-Nathan Heider and Seth O’Donnell- combining to throw for 495 yards and two touchdown passes.
“The kids have a good time with the offense,” said Reeder, a 1988 Lewistown grad who spent 10 years as an assistant before taking over in place of Johnny Johnson after last season. It’s new and fresh and they enjoy running it at practice.”
One thing it hasn’t produced is an abundance of touchdowns. The Panthers lost in Week 1 to Philipsburg-Osceola 7-0 on an interception return and topped Bald Eagle Area 19-13 last Friday.
And while the offense certainly presents problems for opponents not accustomed to defending five wide receivers, it has proven susceptible to big defensive plays. The Panthers have had seven passes picked off in the first two weeks of the season.
It hasn’t demonstrated much diversity either. While Heider (24 of 49 for 355 yards) and O’Donnell (11 of 25 passes for 186) have posted impressive numbers, the running game has been stagnant, averaging just over 20 yards per game.
“We take what’s given based on the defensive alignments we see,” said Reeder. “It depends on what we see. Will the numbers change? I hope so. We have some tailbacks that haven’t had a chance to shine yet because we have thrown so much.”
If Tyrone can adjust quickly to the spread offense, they’re chances of cracking the win column are good, considering they way their own offense, relying heavily on inexperienced underclassmen, has grown over the first two weeks of the season. Senior Aaron Jeffries (10 receptions for 188 yards and three scores) has stepped forward as a big-play receiver, while sophomore running backs Brice Mertiff (15 carries, 60 yards) and Ben Gummo (24carries, 136 yards) appear to grow in confidence with each carry.
And after a horrendous game against B-A in the opener, senior quarterback Tyler Mertiff seemed to settle and regain his form against Huntingdon. Mertiff scorched the Bearcats for 177 yards passing and two touchdowns while rushing for 85 more, bringing his season totals to 320 yards passing and four touchdowns on 24-of-55 to go along with 77 yards rushing on 24 carries.
Still, Franco understands that despite his team’s dramatic growth over the first two weeks of the season, it doesn’t mean a thing unti it’s displayed for 48 minutes on Friday nights.
“Right now, we’re an enigma,” he said. “It has been hard for the younger guys because our numbers are so low they have had to play a prominent role and they’ve had a lot thrown at them. We’ve tried to limit how much we put in and we’ve seen execution problems as a result. They have trouble adjusting to other team’s adjustments.”
And in a Big 8 Conference as balanced as at any time in recent memory, the road gets no easier.
“Things are so close this year, it’s hard to project more than a week ahead,”said Franco. “It’s even-Steven from top to bottom. And at 0-2, we can’t afford to look down the road.”
GRID TIDBITS:The Tyrone junior varsity game against Philipsburg-Osceola previous scheduled away at Philipsburg, will instead be played at Gray-Vets Nmemorial Field Monday at 6 p.m…. Tyrone is averaging 17 points per game … junior lineman Justin Clark, out since the first week of summer camp with a dislocated shoulder, will play a part-time role against Lewistown … lineman Josh Frye may not be ready to return from the injured list for two more weeks … add to Tyrone injured list sophomore Brandon Maceno (ankle) and freshmand Brinton Mingle (hand) … Tyrone has not lost to Lewistown since 1993 … the game will mark Tyrone’s 33rd annual Homecoming celebration. Senior Carrie Crabtree will be corwned Homecoming Queen.