Sometime in the second quarter of last night’s Big 8 showdown against Tyrone at Gray Veterans Memorial Field, Huntingdon quarterback Geoff Kozak took a shot that made his head spin. It was bad enough that he had trouble recalling game action when questioned by medical staff on the sideline, and head coach Jim Zauzig began conferring with his assistants for a second-half substitution.
But as foggy as Kozak was for the better part of the second quarter, it couldn’t have compared to the daze the Golden Eagles were in after the Bearcats rallied from a one-touchdown deficit late in the fourth quarter to tie the game with 18 seconds to play before winning 23-20 on a 34-yard Kozak field goal in overtime.
The Golden Eagles dominated Huntingdon statistically, outgaining the ‘Cats in total offense by almost 120 yards, and moved the ball at will on the ground. Defensively, the Eagles put the wraps on one of the most skilled offenses in the conference, stopping the ‘Cats behind their line of scrimmage 13 times.
But when given four cracks to tie or win the game in overtime Tyrone fumbled on its first play from the 10.
The loss was Tyrone’s third straight to the Bearcats, who improved to 2-0 and 1-0 in the Big 8 Conference. Tyrone fell to 1-1, and opened its conference season 0-1 for the third straight time.
Tyrone elected to defend first in overtime, and after Max Soellner’s sack of Kozak on third down dropped the ‘Cats back to the 17-yard line, Huntingdon brought on its field goal unit. Kozak cooly split the uprights to give the ‘Cats a three-point edge.
Then, on Tyrone’s first play from the 10, quarterback Brandon Maceno mishandled the exchange from center, sending the ball bouncing on the ground behind the line of scrimmage where it was swallowed up by a diving Aaron Kreider to preserve the ‘Cats victory.
“Two percent of me feels bad for Tyrone and the way the game ended,” said Zauzig. “The competitor in me says you should get your four plays and if we can stop you and win, rah, rah for us. That’s as a competitor and someone who coached here for two years. But as a Huntingdon coach, I’m ecstatic to win.”
To win, the Bearcats were forced to withstand a Tyrone offense that methodically ground out yard after yard with a relentless running game, and to find a way to get past a defense that stopped them for zero or negative yardage 24 times.
Thanks to the big-game ability of Kozak, who had a major hand in every Huntingdon score, the ‘Cats did just that.
“Kozak is a big game player,” said Tyrone coach John Franco. “He’s one of the best players in the state. Great players make great plays and he hurt us with a couple of big plays.”
One of those great plays came with just over a minute remaining in regulation with the ‘Cats trailing 20-13 when Kozak led Brandon Spayd perfectly on a 21-yard post route that set Huntingdon up at the Tyrone 1-yard line. After Ronnie Quinn was stopped for no gain on first down, Kozak snuck in a play later, and kicked the extra-point to tie it.
“There were players saying they couldn’t make out what he was saying in the huddle during the second quarter,” said Zauzig of his star player. “We were getting blank stares from him when we talked to him on the sidelines. For him to come back like he did was a gutsy effort.”
In the first half, with his team trailing 10-0, Kozak single-handedly rallied the ‘Cats to take a brief 13-10 lead. First, following a 59-yard kickoff return by Jerrod Smith that had Huntingdon at the Tyrone 36, Kozak scrambled left, split two Tyrone defenders, cut right against the grain, and sprinted to the goal line to make it 10-6 with four minutes left in the half.
On Huntingdon’s next possession, Kozak, under heavy pressure and rolling towards the sideline, found Smith all alone behind the Tyrone secondary. His pass went 45 yards in the air and was hauled in by Smith, who raced it in from the 15 to give the ‘Cats the lead with 1:14 until halftime.
After a 38-yard kickoff return by Tommy Crowl put Tyrone in business at its own 43, the Eagles moved 40 yards on three Maceno completions to the Huntingdon 17. Maceno ran for six yards to get the ball to the 11, and Ben Gummo kicked a 28-yard field goal with 14 seconds left to tie the game at 13 at halftime.
Tyrone regained the lead on its first possession of the second half with a 57-yard, five-play drive that consumed three minutes. Maceno passed for 27 yards on the drive on completions to Gummo (14 yards) and Max Soellner (13 yards), and Brice Mertiff ran in from the eight to lift Tyrone to a 20-13 lead.
“We were able to move the ball all night,” said Franco. “But we’re not a big play offense.”
For most of the first half, that didn’t matter. Tyrone established a tempo to its liking from the opening series, pounding the ball at Huntingdon on the ground. On their first scoring drive, Tyrone ran on seven of eight plays to move the ball 68 yards and set up a 26-yard field goal by Gummo for a 3-0 lead.
Their next series was much the same. The Eagles went exclusively to the run on a nine-play, 56-yard drive aided by a roughing the kicker call against Huntingdon that put the ball on the Bearcats’ 39-yard line. Six plays later, Mertiff powered in from the five and Tyrone led 10-0.
But turnovers dogged the Eagles throughout the game. Gummo fumbled on Tyrone’s first series of the game, and lost the ball again in the fourth quarter with 7:10 remaining while the Eagles were attempting to kill the clock.
“There were two great teams out here tonight and it was a great game,” said Franco. “We made the big mistake and they didn’t.”
GAME NOTES: Mertiff ended his night with 109 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries … Maceno finished 6-for-8 passing for 71 yards … Terry Tate led Tyrone with seven solo tackles, including two for losses, and was around the ball most of the game … Huntingdon was just 1-for-10 in third down conversions … Soellner and Justin Clark each had sacks.
Huntingdon 23, Tyrone 20 (OT)
Huntingdon 0 13 0 7 3 – 23
Tyrone 0 13 7 0 0 – 20
T – Gummo, 26 field goal, 11:55
T – Mertiff, 5 run (Gummo kick), 4:10
H – Kozak, 36 run (PAT failed) 4:00
H – Smith, 60 pass from Kozak (Kozak kick), 1:14
T – Gummo, 28 field goal, :14
T – Mertiff, 8 run (Gummo Kick), 4:53
H – Kozak, 1 run (Kozak Kick), :18.2
H – Kozak, 34 field goal
First Downs 13 6
Rushes 39 33
Rush Yard 167 40
Pass Att. 12 10
Pass Comp. 7 4
Pass Yards 85 95
Int. by 1 0
Fumbles/Rec 3/3 2/0
Penalties 5-25 3-30
Punts 4-35.7 5-30.4
Total Yards 252 135
Tyrone: Mertiff 27-109, Gummo 9-40, Maceno 2-10, Wilson 1-8.
Huntingdon: Kozak 12-1, Smith 13-28, Waleski 2-12, Spayd 5-3, Young 1- (-4)
Tyrone: Maceno 6-8-71, Wilson 1-4-14
Huntingdon: Kozak 3-8-98, 1 TD, 1 INT, Young 1-2-(-3)
Tyrone: Gummo 3-42, Soellner 2-27, Mertiff 1-12, Crowl 1-4
Huntingdon: Smith 1-60, Young 1-17, Spayd 2-27, Kozak 1-(-3)