Hungry Eagles open defense of District crown against confident Chestnut Ridge Lions

You’d like to think that after an unbeaten regular season, the Tyrone Golden Eagles would enter their game tomorrow against Chestnut Ridge in the District 5-6-AA with a little bit of confidence.
But confidence isn’t the right word according to Eagle coach John Franco.
It’s hunger.
“These guys want to prove that their names deserve to be mentioned up there along side some of the great Tyrone teams of the past,” Franco said.
In case you’re wondering how a team like Tyrone – which completed back-to-back undefeated seasons last week with a 35-7 win over Johnstown – could possibly feel malnourished, understand that it’s all relative. When you’ve won seven District championships since 1995, it takes a little more to fill your belly.
But the hunger for Tyrone is real, and it comes from two places, Franco said.
“When you get knocked out like we did last year (a 23-20 overtime loss at home to Bishop McCort in the semifinals), and you’re not expected to do much, it gives you a hunger,” Franco said. “It’s something I haven’t noticed since 2003. They’re playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder.”
In 2003, Tyrone fed its hunger with a District title – the program’s first since 2000. This year, it’s paved the way for the 10th unbeaten regular season in school history.
Ironically, while Franco’s team feels hungry, it’s Chestnut Ridge that has enjoyed a surge in confidence. The Lions defeated inter-county rival Bedford last week for the first time in 14 seasons, and that’s got Chestnut Ridge feeling, if not confident, relaxed, coach Dan Wilkins said.
“It gives us momentum and takes a monkey off our backs,” said Chestnut Ridge coach Dan Wilkins. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t give us any points this week. It gave us confidence, or maybe a certain looseness, which is good.”
The No. 1 seeded Eagles and the No. 8 Lions play at 7 p.m. at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field. It’s a rematch of sorts in that the teams played 12 weeks ago in Fishertown in a scrimmage following the first week of practice. In a practice game that seemingly meant little, Chestnut Ridge outscored Tyrone three touchdowns to two, and three months later the coaches differed on what bearing that game had on the one they’ll play tomorrow.
“Both teams are very different now,” Wilkins said. “We have guys playing positions now that they weren’t playing then, and I assume Tyrone does, too. A scrimmage is not a measuring stick for who’s going to win this game.”
But Franco saw it as a motivating factor. Tyrone players would like to prove they’re better than what they showed after the first week of practice, and they know Ridge has the confidence to play well against them.
“It’s a chance for us to redeem ourselves because they took it to us,” Franco said. “We have another opportunity, but they’ll be confident because they know they can beat us.”
They’ll also be confident because they’re 7-3, and they were playing well even before last Friday’s historical win. The Lions average nearly 28 points per game, and they have the kind of depth at the skill positions that makes coaches nervous.
Running back Mike Tomovich leads the team with over 1,100 yards on the ground, while quarterback Jason Deffibaugh has passed for nearly 900 yards.
“We’ve felt good since the beginning of the season that we have five guys who – when they touch the ball – they can handle the ball. All five guys can do something with it, but it’s the same for Tyrone,” said Wilkins.
Tyrone showcased its skill players in the blowout win over the Trojans. Quarterback Tyler Golden Hooked up with Justin Schopp for 121 yards and two touchdowns and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Tyler Gillmen rushed for 105 yards, and leading rusher Johnny Franco (174 carries, 1,274 yards), accounted for 92 yards of total offense and his 20th touchdown of the season.
“They have two very good backs in Franco and Gillmen and that’s been a big plus for them,” Wilkins said. “Tyrone is so well disciplined and well coached, they’re not going to beat themselves. They know what they want to do and you’re not going to talk them out of it.”
What Tyrone would like to do against Ridge, Franco said, is win the battle up front, where the Lions are strong. After the Eagles’ 21-14 win over Penns Valley in Week 8, Franco said he saw the need to rotate more players in, especially on the line, which made for fresher bodies in the trenches last week, when Nick Wilson, Brock Anders and tight end Doug Morrow – in his first game back since a broken collarbone suffered in the scrimmage with the Lions – all allowed Tyrone’s starters time to regroup.
“It’s not for a quarter or even a series, but just for a couple of plays,” Franco said. “That’s all you really need. Sometimes you need that as much mentally as physically.”
One thing Tyrone will have this season that Franco said was missing in 2005 is an edge heading into the playoffs. Last year, Tyrone went virtually unchallenged most of the season, and never played a big game after Week 6 until the postseason.
Now, despite a No. 4 state ranking, Tyrone enters the playoffs feeling like it has something to prove.
“The kids want to prove they can get back to Mansion and play for a championship,” Franco said. “We know we’re not as talented as some other teams out there and we may have to play harder than we have in the past. Last year, we were shocked when we lost. Sometimes you don’t come in with the same hunger and passion. There’s definitely a hunger this year.”