Wet conditions caused by hurricane just what Franco orders for Eagles

The weather gods may finally be smiling once again on coach John Franco and the Tyrone Golden Eagles.
Last season, when Tyrone was driven by its skill-oriented, big-play passing offense, the Eagles found themselves slopping in the mud more than a country hog. Now, with a hefty line and a bruising running game, a game like the one anticipated this weekend in the wake of hurricane Isabel, suits Franco just fine.
The Golden Eagles (2-1, 1-1 Big 8), ranked 10th in Class AA this week by the Pennsylvania Football News, host 0-3 Bellefonte this week in a game scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. at Gray Veterans Memorial Field. But the weather forecasted as a result of hurricane Isabel already has talk circulating between the two schools of a possible postponement to Saturday if the weather received in the central Pennsylvania region is too severe.
But whether it’s played Friday or Saturday, the track at Gray Veterans Field will be more to the liking of the Eagles than the Raiders. Tyrone has bullied opponents through three games for 660 yards on the ground and 11 rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, Bellefonte has struggled mightily against the run, surrendering an average of 293 rushing yards per game.
At the same time, the Raiders have barely registered a pulse where running the football is concerned. Their single-game high to this point is 117 in Week 1 against Penns Valley and they’ve been held below 60 twice.
Against a Tyrone defense that is allowing just 52 yards per game, that could force Bellefonte to rely even more heavily upon the arm of junior quarterback Josh Mundy, who already has accounted for 66 percent of the Raiders’ offense.
It’s the kind of scenario Bellefonte coach Tom Gravish would not like to envision. After watching his team play well enough to win on three occasions (the Raiders led 14-0 in two of their three games this season), he and the Raider coaching staff returned to the fundamentals this week and were hoping to put an offense on the field that took fewer chances than it did through the early part of the season.
“We’re going to run our spread offense some, but we want to concentrate on what we do well,” said Gravish. “We don’t want to go for as many home run plays. We’d like to be in more manageable situations on second and third down.”
Without a running game, chances of that are slim against Tyrone, as Lewistown found out a week ago in a 34-12 loss to the Eagles. Running a no-huddle spread offense similar to the one used by Bellefonte, the Panthers surrendered six sacks and ran for just 51 yards.
“The defense has played awfully well,” said Franco. “In a bad weather game, you need strong performances from your defense and special teams.”
Despite the gaudy numbers Bellefonte has allowed defensively, they could easily be 3-0. They led Penns Valley 14-0 in the first quarter, had Philipsburg-Osceola on the ropes up two touchdowns in the fourth, and held Huntingdon to three yards in the first quarter last week before turning the ball over six times in a 27-0 loss.
“They’re an enigma,” said Franco. “They have the talent to be 3-0, or at least 2-1. They have the talent to beat us. I’m actually shocked they’re 0-3.”
One reason Bellefonte has struggled closing out games may by its youth. Twenty-two sophomores dot the Bellefonte roster, and underclassmen play a heavy role in what Gravish is trying to do.
“We’re lacking the oomph to put teams away,” said Gravish. “We’ve tried to tell the kids that when you’re up 14-0, that’s when you’ve got to take your game to the next level. It should thrill you more than coming out for the opening kick. We play not to lose.”
A Policy of Containment
Gravish said he expects Tyrone running backs Brice Mertiff and Ben Gummo to make some plays. It’s the distance and impact of those plays that he would like to limit.
“They’re excellent running backs and they obviously have good line play,” he said. “It will be a challenge for us. On the money downs, we want to make plays. Tyrone always has a good bootleg, play-action passing game, and we’ve worked on not giving that up, especially on first down. We also want to make sure Brice and Ben don’t go for long runs. If we give up touchdowns, we don’t want them to be long touchdowns.”
Mertiff leads Tyrone with 391 yards and five touchdowns on 67 carries, while Gummo has gone for 185 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries.
Passing Games
Now that Tyrone has settled on sophomore Leonard Wilson as the No. 1 quarterback, Franco expects to see the Eagles’ passing game improve. In his first start last week, Wilson completed four of 11 passes for 29 yards and no picks.
“Brandon (Maceno) is a capable quarterback, but Leonard is getting better every week,” said Franco. “The one drawback to the two-quarterback system is it limits the reps in practice of each player. Leonard’s getting most of the reps now and I’m pleased with his progress. We will be able to pass the ball and do it well.”
Names and Numbers
Gummo is Tyrone’s top receiver with 42 yards on three catches….Tony Torsell tops the Raider receiving charts with 179 yards on 17 catches â€| Bellefonte is allowing 404 total yards per game….Matt Mundy is Bellefonte’s leading rusher with 110 yards on 28 carries. He did not play last week….Max Soellner, fresh off a five-sack performance against Lewistown, leads Tyrone with six sacks….Tyrone’s takeaway-giveaway ratio is 5-3….Bellefonte hasn’t beaten Tyrone since 1992.