Pius X takes advantage of Tyrone miscues to defeat Golden Eagles 25-21

In the long run, it may go down as one of the most frustrating games in the career of Tyrone coach John Franco.
But in the context of the 2002 season, the Golden Eagles’ 25-21 loss to Pius X Saturday at Gray Veterans Memorial Field was another case of Tyrone letting a team off the hook.
The Golden Eagles moved the ball seemingly at will against the bigger, physically imposing Royals, perhaps better than any opponent Pius had seen this season. But seven crucial turnovers and a touchdown-canceling holding penalty allowed Pius to avert catastrophe and chip away at a one-time 14-0 Tyrone lead.
And ultimately, they spelled disaster for the Golden Eagles. Senior quarterback Tyler Mertiff had what may go down as the best single-game passing performance in school history, completing 13 of 25 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns, but he was picked off five times and fumbled twice. On another occasion, a 29-yard touchdown run by sophomore Ben Gummo was called back on a holding penalty.
The loss snapped Tyrone’s three-game winning streak, dropping the Eagles to 3-3, and in each of those losses, the Eagles suffered major breakdowns that led to defeat.
Against Bellwood-Antis in Week 1, an illegal procedure brought back a touchdown that would have built a 14-0 lead in a 17-15 loss. A week later at Huntingdon, Tyrone’s special teams gave the Bearcats a short field continually throughout the first half, setting up the ‘Cat scores in a 29-20 defeat.
But give credit to the Royals. After all, they made the plays, they forced the turnovers, and they had the resiliency to overcome a two-touchdown deficit on the road and steal a victory in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve had nothing but bad luck all year long and we needed something good,” said Pius coach Frank Scagliotta, whose team improved to 3-3 while playing one of the most challenging schedules in Pennsylvania. “For them to come back the way they did, I was very proud.”
Sophomore Melvin Stewart starred for the Royals, gaining 132 yards on 19 carries and scoring two touchdowns. He also intercepted Mertiff twice, but the biggest interception of the night was snagged by linebacker Vince Greggo with 1:36 left in the fourth quarter.
Tyrone had just taken over with 2:02 to play when Mertiff recovered a Stewart fumble at the T-22. On first down, he found sophomore Brice
Mertiff open down the sideline for a 58-yard completion to the Pius 20-yard line. On first down, he looked for Aaron Jeffries on a slant, but his arm was hit as he drew back the ball and Greggo went low to snatch a wobbly interception, which he returned to the T-24. From there, Pius was able to run out the clock.
The play spoke volumes for the complexion of the game from the Eagles’ standpoint. Just when Tyrone was ready to put a lid on Pius, a turnover changed the tide dramatically. When Tyrone played mistake-free, as it did for most of the first quarter, the yards, and points, came in bunches.
The Eagles took their first possession of the game and drove 88 yards for a 7-0 lead. Tyler Mertiff accounted for more than half of the yards with a 51-yard run on first down from the P-31, moving the ball to the 18. Six plays later, he hit Brice Mertiff on a seven-yard pass for the score and Gummo kicked the extra-point.
After Brian McManigal recovered a fumble two plays into the Royals’ ensuing possession, Tyler Mertiff threw to Jeffries over the middle for a 46-yard score and a 14-0 lead.
Pius answered with a 12-play, 61-yard drive that lasted just over two minutes into the second quarter. The Royals pounded away at the Eagles, rushing the ball nine times. They scored on a fourth-down pass by Rich Rupert from the 16 that sailed over the head of Ryan Waltner and into the arms of Shawn Brice in the back of the endzone. Chris Saveri’s extra-point made the score 14-7.
Tyrone stormed back on its next series and drove the P-29 when Gummo zigzagged his way through the Royals defense for a score that could have made it 21-7, but was called back on a holding penalty. The Eagles regrouped and moved to the 10, but on first down a Tyler Mertiff fumble was covered up by Mike Drybaugh.
The Eagles turned the ball over twice more in the first half, once on an interception by Drybaugh that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and once on a spectacular leaping grab by Waltner.
The Eagles’ first two series of the second half ended in similar fashion. Tyler Mertiff was intercepted by Stewart on his first attempt of the third quarter, and fumbled at Tyrone’s 40-yard line on the next series.
The Royals cashed in on that one, using seven plays, including a run for 22 yards by Rupert on a fake punt, to pull within 14-13 on a Rupert sneak at 6:05.
Tyrone responded with a nine-play, 62-yard drive that lasted over five minutes and pushed the lead up to 21-13. The key play was a 35-yard hookup from Tyler Mertiff to Jeffries that got the ball to the P-2. Four running plays later, Gummo blasted in from the 1 on fourth down.
Pius made it 21-19 with 11:46 to play when Stewart scored from the 1 to cap a six-play, 71-yard drive highlighted by a 55-yard completion from Rupert to Waltner. The Royals took the lead for good on their next series when Stewart scored from 21 yards out, making it 25-21.
The Eagles had two chances to take the lead. On the first, Tyrone drove from its own 27 to the Pius 15 thanks to a pair of long receptions by Jeffries (42) and Tom Crowl (13), but on second down Tyler Mertiff was picked off by Stewart in the end zone.
The Royals tried to run out the clock, but after eight plays, Stewart fumbled and Tyler Mertiff recovered, setting up the Eagles’ final possession.
Tyrone travels to Philipsburg-Osceola this week, and at 3-1 in the conference the Eagles still have an outside shot at the Big 8 championship, pending the outcome of this week’s game between unbeaten Huntingdon and Indian Valley. Pius hosts Quad-A Exeter.
GRID TIDBITS: Jeffries caught eight passes for 163 yards … Stewart and Rupert became the third and fourth backs to gain over 100 yards in a game this season against Tyrone … Tyrone has not won a non-conference game since defeating Punxsy last October … John Franco was unavailable for comment.
Pius X 25 Tyrone 21
Score by quarter
Tyrone – 14 0 7 0-21
Pius X – 0 7 6 12 – 25
Scoring summary
First quarter
T- B. Mertiff 7 pass from T. Mertiff (Gummo kick) 4:33
T- Jeffries 46 pass from T. Mertiff (Gummo kick) 3:09
Second quarter
P- Brice 15 pass from Rupert (Saveri kick) 9:53
Third quarter
P- Rupert 2 run (kick failed) 6:05
T- Gummo 1 run (Gummo kick) 1:29
Fourth quarter
P- Stewart 1 run (pass failed) 11:46
P- Stewart 21 run (pass failed) 7:19
Team Statistics
First Downs 17 20
Rushes 31 54
Rush yards 130 345
Pass Att. 25 21
Pass Comp. 13 6
Pass Yards 282 92
Interceptions 5 0
Fumbles lost 2 2
Penalty yards 2-15 7-55
Punts/Avg. 2-20 3-32
Total Offense 412 437
Individual Statistics
Tyrone: Gummo 11-35 (1 YD), B. Mertiff 9-34, T. Mertiff 10-65
Pius X: Stewart 19-153 (2 TDs), Rupert 13-126 (1 TD), Rader 6-37, Brice 10-25, Kitchen 4-10, Team 2-(-6).
Tyrone: T. Mertiff 13-25, 282, 2 TD, 5 Int.
Pius X: Rupert 6-20-92-1-0, Brice 0-1-0-0-0.
Tyrone: Jeffries 8-163 (1 TD), Crowl 4-32, Gummo 1-22, B. Mertiff 2-63 (1 TD).
Pius X: Waltner 4-70, Brice 1-15 (1 TD), Kitchen 1-6.