Golden Eagles must go with patchwork line against Philipsburg-Osceola Friday

There’s a lot to make coach John Franco happy about his football team, which at 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the MAC Nittany Division holds its destiny in its own hands heading into tomorrow’s conference game at Gray Veterans Memorial Field against Philipsburg-Osceola (7 p.m.).
For one thing, he loves its week-to-week approach to the schedule. The Golden Eagles have bought into Franco’s high intensity message of gearing up for every opponent, which is one reason Tyrone looked sharp last Friday against hapless Bald Eagle Area.
The Eagles have also impressed Franco with their work ethic in practice, which he describes as “outstanding,” and “a big reason for our success.”
But if there’s one thing that’s tempered the eleventh-year coach’s otherwise positive demeanor, it’s the slew of injuries his players suffered in their blowout win last week in Wingate. Two key players, as of Wednesday,Golden Eagles were scheduled to miss tomorrow’s game entirely, while another had his playing time severely diminished as a result of shots delivered by BEA that Franco said were outside the boundaries of clean football hits.
“The game of football is rough and violent enough without that kind of stuff,” Franco said. “There’s no place in the game for the cheap stuff. And now we’ve basically lost six positions as a result of it.”
Senior Robert Emigh suffered the most visible injury when he was knocked unconscious at the tail end of a 27-yard screen play in the first quarter. Emigh trailed the play by 10 yards but was blasted by a Bald Eagle player as the play ended.
Emigh went down and was out for several minutes. Trainers at first called for the ambulance, but then sent it back when Emigh came to. However the two-way starter at defensive tackle and center was not allowed to return to the game.
“The officials weren’t in a position to see that one, but we clearly saw it on film,” said Franco. “The kid came from sideline to sideline and hit Robert behind the play.”
As of yesterday, trainers said Emigh would not be able to play tomorrow. Also out for the P-O game is junior lineman Bo Latchford, who also went down in the first quarter against BEA after his ankle was injured by a chop block.
“Bo is a kid for us that rotates in at guard on offense, starts at defensive end, and plays on every special team,” Franco said. “He leaves a big hole for us to fill.”
Senior lineman and kicker Buddy Stotler will see limited action against the Mounties after suffering a leg injury during one of his seven extra-point kicks against Bald Eagle.
“He will only play one way,” said Franco. “But what’s upsetting is that all three injuries were the results of cheap shots. They weren’t things that happen normally during the course of a game.”
The extent of Tyrone’s injury problems means that several other players will have to step up, Franco said. Junior Josh Wright, who filled in for Emigh at center last week, will do so again this week, while the combination of sophomores Nick Wilson and Brock Anders, along with junior Aaron DeLay, will help sure up the hole left by Latchford.
Senior Matthew Lauder will start at defensive end in place of Latchford, while Wilson will see most of the action on the defensive line in place of Emigh.
Tyler Gillmen will handle the kicking duties this week for Stotler, who has booted 16 extra points and one field goal.
“While the injuries are unfortunate, they create another opportunity for another kid,” Franco said. “Everyone else now has to do a little more.”
It’s unlikely P-O, at 1-3, is shedding any tears over the Golden Eagles’ misfortune. That’s because the Mounties are depleted themselves, particularly on offense, but it’s not the result of injury. Instead, it’s the effect of the graduation of the Class of 2005, one of the strongest groups of players in P-O history, which went 16-6 from 2003 through 2004 and advanced to the District semifinals twice.
Thanks to players like Jeff Winters, Lou LaFuria and Bjorn Scoggins, the Mounties had already accumulated 126 points and over 1,500 yards by this time a year ago. Now, the offensively challenged Mounties have scored only 47 points, and their offensive production is down by more than 50 percent.
“I don’t know if it’s a fair comparison (to compare last year’s team to this year’s),” said P-O coach Jeff Vroman. “We’re a young football team this year and that lends itself to some of the mistakes we’ve made. I have to remind myself that when I look out on the field on a Friday night and see eight or nine underclassmen playing.
“But our offense has lacked consistency.”
As a result, the Mounties have had to rely on their defense, and that part of the team has not disappointed. P-O has allowed only 11.7 points per game and has one shutout under its belt. The Mounties have also forced eight turnovers, while allowing more than two scores in a game only once, last week in a 20-7 loss to Bishop Guilfoyle.
“That’s definitely their strength,” said Franco. “This will be the best defense we’ve seen to this point in the season. That will be our big challenge this week.”
“Our defense is solid, and there hasn’t been much of a drop off there from last year,” Vroman said.
Their defense may also have one big benefit from Tyrone’s injuries – P-O’s best defensive player, nose-tackle J.B. Brown, will be playing across from a center that’s starting his first varsity game.
Despite losing three linemen to graduation who were named to All-State teams in 2004, Tyrone is continuing this season to get it done rushing the football.
Tyrone is averaging 236 rushing yards per game, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry. The Eagles have collected 16 rushing touchdowns and have had a 100-yard rusher three times.
Those figures don’t sound too dissimilar from numbers Tyrone posts every season, but what’s different is how the Eagles are getting their rushing yards. Instead of the single-back approach that’s been successful for Tyrone since 1995 – producing runners like Marcus Owens, Jesse Jones and Brice Mertiff – the Eagles are spreading the ball around to one of several backs that could be feature backs at other schools.
Senior Brinton Mingle is the team’s rushing leader with 378 yards on 71 carries, and Gillmen is second with 278 yards on 34 carries. Sophomore Johnny Franco is bringing up the rear with 144 yards on 19 carries.
The depth of the Eagles at running back and their other skill positions, along with their athleticism on the line, has caused opposing coaches to take notice. Last week, BEA coach Mike Markle said he thought Tyrone’s athleticism made them better than a year ago.
“They’re highly athletic,” said Vroman. “From a purely speed aspect or a skill aspect, they may be quicker than a year ago. Up front, they’re not as big, but they are sound and experienced.”
Part of P-O’s offensive troubles has been the Mounties’ lack of big-time playmakers. Another part has been turnovers.
Yet another has been P-O’s inability to sustain a running game. A year ago this week, the Mounties had already run for 978 yards, over than 500 more than they have right now.
Elliot Davis leads P-O with 158 yards on 25 carries, while Ryan Marcinko is second with 100 yards on 33 carries.
Quarterback A.J. Czap is P-O’s offensive leader with 289 passing yards and two touchdowns, hitting 20 of his 54 attempts.
Tyrone quarterback Leonard Wilson is closing in on some hallowed passing records, and he’s taking some of his teammates along for his historic ride.
A three-year starter, the steady Wilson enters tomorrow’s game needing just one touchdown pass to tie the TAHS record for career touchdown passes of 27 set by Jarrod Anderson from 1994-96.
Wilson also finds himself just 278 yards behind the career record for passing yards established by Tyler Mertiff from 2001-2002. Wilson has completed 28 of 47 passes for 489 yards this season, and now has 2,608 passing yards for his career.
Two major beneficiaries of Wilson’s work this season have been senior receiver Trey Brockett and junior tight end Doug Morrow, both of whom are having their best seasons catching the football.