Eagles prepare for Huntingdon passing attack in Gray-Veterans Field opener

Bellwood-Antis – led by record-setting running back Josh Kleinfelter – presented a difficult challenge to Tyrone’s defense in Week 1 of the high school football season, but it was a challenge the Golden Eagles began preparing for from the first day of fall practice.
Consequently, Tyrone was ready. Kleinfelter was limited to 52 yards on 15 carries, while as a unit the Blue Devils could muster only 46 yards on the ground.
This week, the Eagles have shifted their defensive focus 180 degrees in preparing for Huntingdon, and the challenge will be for Tyrone’s experienced secondary to put the clamps on up-and-coming quarterback Kyle Kyper. Only this time, the Eagles get only a week to prepare, and that’s a concern for coach John Franco.
“Huntingdon is bigger than Bellwood-Antis and they may try to power us a little more, but they’re really a throwing team,” said Franco. “I think they’re going to put the ball in the air, and that presents a totally different scenario for us than what we prepared for in the summer.”
One reason the ‘Cats can afford to challenge a Tyrone secondary that boasts three returning starters from a season ago is because Kyper has raised the level of his game. The 6-3, 190-pound senior spent an off-season hitting the weights and attending passing camps, developing to the point where Bearcat coach Jim Zauzig realized as early as July that his team could put the ball in the air come fall.
“He really turned things around in the span of 12 months,” Zauzig said. “He refined his throwing technique at passing camps and just religiously worked out in the weight room.”
Franco, as well, knew early that Kyper would factor heavily into the ‘Cats’ plans this season.
“He comes to my passing camps, so I know he’s good,” Franco said.
In a 47-0 blowout of Mount Union last Friday, Kyper completed five of eight passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. It was a performance that excited Zauzig, who compared this year’s Bearcat squad to the team he coached in his first season as Huntingdon’s head coach in 1997. That group was dominated by talented juniors and sophomores, and after a slow start it improved enough to win a District 6-AAA championship.
Similarly, many of the Bearcats’ key players this season are underclassmen, but the potential for offensive balance that’s there when Kyper’s game is on has Zauzig thinking that maybe Huntingdon isn’t one year away. Along with Kyper’s impressive numbers against the Trojans, Bucky Culbertson ran for 143 yards on 10 carries, while Joey Riley gained 98 on seven.
“The game this week will be a good indicator for us of where we stand,” said Zauzig. “It’s not a league game, but it is an indicator for how well we may do in our league.”
Franco views the game as a chance for Tyrone’s skill players to clean up some of the sloppy mistakes they made in their 31-19 victory over the Blue Devils, most notably the four fumbled exchanges made between center Robert Emigh and quarterback Leonard Wilson, one of which resulted in a B-A touchdown.
“We won’t be able to do that against Huntingdon and expect to win,” Franco said.
But the game wasn’t all bad for Wilson and Emigh. Wilson finished the game completing 9 of 14 passes for 143 yards, one touchdown pass and one touchdown run, while Emigh had three solo tackles, including two quarterback sacks.
“I was very pleased to see the way we hit and the way we ran to the football,” said Franco.
In all, it was a very productive day for the Eagles on both sides of the ball, and one that without question gave Franco and his staff a good gauge on where the team stands, especially in major areas of concern like the offensive and defensive fronts. Tyrone was sharp in its run blocking and pass protection, and the Eagles dominated B-A’s offensive line when the Blue Devils had the ball.
“Those are still areas of concern,” said Franco, “but I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by how well they played.”
Zauzig is concerned with how the ‘Cats will react in two main areas of the game. One is defending the multi-faceted Wilson, who along with his 2,200 career passing yards has also run for 500. The other is dealing with the raucous Gray Veterans Memorial Field crowd always drawn by one of Central Pennsylvania’s most heated rivalries.
“I hope our nerves don’t come undone,” Zauzig said.
Cramping Their Style
You expect to see some cramping in the early part of the season, when Friday night temperatures still hover around the 70-degree mark and humid conditions seem to drain players of their fluids, but no one on Tyrone’s coaching staff was prepared for what happened against B-A, when seven different starters left the game at least once with cramping.
Starting running back Brinton Mingle – who finished the game with 74 yards and two touchdowns – came out on multiple occasions with cramps and stayed out after leaving in the third quarter. Wilson collapsed with cramps in the endzone on the heels of a 48-yard touchdown run.
“That’s more nutrition-based than anything,” Franco said. “It’s not so much conditioning because we do a lot of that. We consulted a nutritionist before the season to prepare our players, and we followed suit with that all summer. In the first game, you usually get a couple, but we were looking at seven starters out with cramps. I’ve never had that many go down. It could have been even worse had it happened earlier in the game”
Rivalry Lives On
For more than 30 years, the Huntingdon-Tyrone game meant not only a rivalry game, but also a Big 8 Conference game that normally decided the outcome of the league.
That changed last year when the Big 8 expanded and realigned into the Mountain Athletic Conference, placing Tyrone in the small school Nittany Division, and Huntingdon in the big school Seven Mountains Division.
Now, the game has no league implications, but both Zauzig and Franco agreed the game has lost none of its intensity as a rivalry game.
“In the last 10 years, as far as the Huntingdon end of it goes, if it hasn’t been our No. 1 rivalry, it’s been the game people want us to win most,” said Zauzig. “Putting us in two different divisions doesn’t take away that intensity.”
“You can’t break up a rivalry by changing conferences,” said Franco. “We play each other in all of the sports and we want to win in everything. If it was tiddly-winks in an alley somewhere, we would want to win. I know they feel the same way.”