The way the Tyrone Golden Eagle football team dug down to secure a District 5-6 AA quarterfinal win over Ligonier Valley on Saturday, you might think they’ve done this before.
The Eagles forced turnovers, controlled the clock, held strong in the Red Zone, and did all of the little things teams used to winning in the post-season are supposed to do in a 27-0 at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field.
But this group of players had never done this before. Until Saturday, they had just one game of playoff experience under their belts, and winning in the post-season was something most of them had only witnessed.
“The playoffs are different,” said Tyrone coach John Franco. “We have a lot of new kids and a lot of inexperienced kids so that made it important for us to win a playoff game.”
In defeating the Mounties, Tyrone (7-3) extended its winning streak to a season-high four games, recorded its second shutout and secured a spot in the District semifinals next week in Sidman against top-seeded Forest Hills, a 12-6 winner in overtime against Central Cambria on Friday.
The Eagles also ended Valley’s seven-game winning streak, forced five turnovers and limited the Mounties multi-faceted offense to just 170 total yards.
“We didn’t make the plays to win,” said Valley coach Ron Baldonieri. “We didn’t catch the ball and we didn’t secure the ball. Those were things we had done over the last seven weeks.”
Tyrone running back Brice Mertiff, led by a relentless push from his offensive line, ran for 192 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries, and quarterback Tyler Mertiff completed 5 of 12 passes for 65 yards to eclipse the TAHS single-season passing yardage record.
The performance of Brice Mertiff was particularly impressive. The sophomore rusher totaled four carries of 30 yards or more to pull within 66 yards of 1,000 for the season.
Dan Grazier, back on offense at his tight end position for the first time after breaking a bone in his left leg against Bellefonte in Week 4, caught two passes for 39 yards.
“There’s no question that in the second half, we wore down, and you can’t do that against a good football team,” said Baldonieri. “They played more kids than we do and they’re used to being in the playoffs.”
But while the Eagles are used to being there – Saturday’s game marked the program’s eighth consecutive trip to the post-season – being there and winning there are two different things.
Tyrone’s dramatic goal line stand at the end of the first half showed that the Eagles weren’t just happy to be there.
Leading 14-0 with 1:26 left before halftime, Tyrone found itself backed to its own 7-yard line following a 43-yard run by Josh Reese. Reese carried for three yards on first and second down, pushing the ball inside the 1. But on third down, he was slammed down in the backfield by Blake Cowfer, who dropped him for a three-yard loss to the 4.
The Mounties went to play-action on fourth down, but defensive end Josh Good wasn’t fooled. Good came in hard off the corner and planted Valley quarterback Brian Burkey for a three-yard loss and Tyrone took over with 15 seconds left.
“Shutting them down twice at the goal line was a key moment in the game,” said Franco.
“That was big,” said Baldonieri. “We thought we had a play but they made penetration and kept us out.”
It was the Eagles’ second Red Zone stand of the night. Early in the second quarter the Mounties drove to the T-13, but on second down from the 17 Tyler Mertiff intercepted Burkey in the endzone to end the threat.
Following the turnover, Tyrone drove 80 yards on nine plays to take a 6-0 lead. Brice Mertiff carried the ball six times on the drive, including a 31-yard sprint on an option pitch that put the ball on the LV-6. Two plays later, Brice Mertiff went in from three yards out.
The Eagles went up 14-0 on their next possession, a five-play drive that went 47 yards in 1:18. Ben Gummo ran 16 yards on a screen pass to the LV-31 on first down and two plays later Tyler Mertiff hit Grazier over the middle for a 22-yard gain to the LV-1. Gummo carried it across from there, and Tyler Mertiff added the 2-point PAT on a bootleg to give the Eagles a two touchdown lead with 1:29 left in the half.
Tyrone opened the fourth quarter with a two-yard touchdown run by Gummo that capped a seven-play drive that began at the T-43 with 2:48 left in the third. Brice Mertiff keyed the drive with a 33-yard run to the LV-16.
Three of Valley’s four fourth quarter possessions ended in turnovers, including an interception by Aaron Jeffries that the senior returned 35 yards to the LV-15. After three running plays netted two yards, Tyler Mertiff rolled left on an option play and outran the defense to the endzone on a 13-yard run. Gummo’s extra-point made it 27-0.
“That’s a team that makes the plays to win games,” said Franco. “I’m shocked we beat them 27-0.”
GRID TIDBITS: Tyler Mertiff has now thrown for 1,457 yards, surpassing the mark of 1,405 set by Brandon Hoover in 1999 … Valley leading rusher Reese finished with 131 yards on 23 carries … the Eagle defense registered 22 plays for zero or negative yards … Cowfer and Briton Mingle also had quarterback sacks … Tyrone fumbled the ball five times, but lost just one of those … the Eagles are 3-1 all-time against Forest Hills, after losing to the Rangers last year 30-29 in the quarterfinals … Tyrone is surrendering 8.25 points per game over its last four games … Valley ends its season 7-3.
TYRONE 27, LIGONIER VALLEY 0
TYRONE 0 14 0 13 – 27
LIGONIER 0 0 0 0 – 0
T – B. Mertiff 3 run (kick failed) 5:16
T- Gummo 1 run (T. Mertiff run) 1:29
T- Gummo 2 run (kick failed) 11:56
T- T. Mertiff 13 run (Gummo kick) 2:15
First Downs 16 9
Rush Att. 44 34
Rush Yards 235 123
Pass Att. 12 16
Pass Comp. 5 3
Pass Yards 65 46
Fumbles/Lost 5/1 3/3
Interceptions By 2 1
Pen./Yards 4-45 7-57
Total Offense 300 170
Tyrone: B. Mertiff 22-192, Gummo 9-14, T. Mertiff 10-21, Christine 2-8.
Ligonier Valley: Reese 23-131, Burkey 6-(-14), Monticue 4-6.
Tyrone: Mertiff 5-12-65 1 INT, 0 TD.
Ligonier Valley: Burkey 3-16-46 2 INT 0 TD.
Tyrone: Jeffries 1-4, Grazier 2-39, Gummo 2-22.
Ligonier Valley: Weaver 2-29, Emert 1-17.