|Shayne Tate||Shane Emigh|
If there’s a silver lining to Tyrone’s early-season injury problems, it’s that they’ve been here before.
If there’s a dark cloud to Tyrone’s early-season injury problems, it’s that they’ve been here before.
For the second straight season, the Eagles head into their Week 2 showdown tomorrow against Huntingdon (1-0) without the services of two of their best players. Last season, it was all-conference players Tyler Gillmen and Doug Morrow who were forced to watch from the sidelines, saddled with injuries.
This year, it’s starting running back Johnny Franco and tight end-defensive-end Johnny Shaffer, and the experience of dealing with a similar situation in 2006 isn’t making this any easier for Tyrone coach John Franco.
“Having it happen two years in a row—this is getting a little old,” Franco said.
Johnny Franco received a modicum of good news this week when he was told by doctors that his return may come sooner than the four to six weeks he was hearing a week ago. He suffered a small crack in his fibula during the preseason, but it’s possible that he may be able to play in as few as one to two weeks. Coach Franco said he was a week-to-week-decision.
Shaffer is day-to-day with an injured shoulder he likewise suffered in preseason camp. He will most likely be available for kicking duties tomorrow, but beyond that his status was unknown as of Wednesday night.
Add in the broken arm suffered by junior OL-DL Dustin Weaver, and it’s already been a dismal season from the standpoint of injuries for the Eagles.
But Huntingdon coach Jim Zauzig sees where that could be turned into a positive for Tyrone, whose masterful head coach continues to find ways to motivate his team in the most dire of situations.
“Time and again, over 30 years of coaching, I’ve seen marquee players go down and the team rallies around them. You saw that last year when Gillmen and Morrow were injured and Tyrone came in and handled us,” said Zauzig. “I know John can rally his players around a situation like that. I know we do have a bit of an advantage with Johnny not being in there, but I almost feel as if we’re at as much of a disadvantage because of the way John can rally his players around the situation.”
While it’s true that Tyrone dominated Huntingdon last year without its star players – the final was 35-13 – the one thing that team had that will be missing tomorrow was Johnny Franco, who in last season’s game ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns and took a screen pass 65 yards for another score.
Coach Franco said he told his team that the injuries aren’t too much to overcome, but they do necessitate a greater effort from everyone else.
“I told the kids that these injuries mean everybody on the team has to do one more thing,” said Franco. “If we can do that, then we’re doing 35 extra things, and that more than makes up for the loss of one or two players.”
Zauzig would like to see his team do one or two more things, as well, but it’s not necessarily to make up for injuries, although starting running back Joey Riley is nursing a sprained ankle. He’d like to see a few players on his young team take a more emotional approach to the game.
“We don’t have a lot of rah-rah guys,” said Zauzig. “But I do see a team that will get better. We won’t get worse from week to week. But they say your biggest improvement comes from Week 1 to Week 2. We’re going to need that to be true Friday night.”
It’s a building season for the Bearcats, who return only four starters from last year’s team that won the MAC Seven Mountains Division championship. But there’s a lot of talent there. Along with the speedy Riley, the ‘Cats return senior RB-LB Andy Young, who last week gained 154 yards and scored twice in a 21-6 win over Mount Union.
Huntingdon also has a senior quarterback starting for the first time in his career in Eric Buza, who Zauzig said has the skills to develop into a fine high school quarterback.
“They actually match up very well with us. We’re both in the developing stages. We are two teams trying to find ourselves,” said Franco.
Holding the Line
Franco said he would like to see his team make improvement on the offensive and defensive lines, which he said did not put together complete performances in last week’s 19-0 win over Bellwood-Antis.
The offensive line was inconsistent in the first half, he said, but played much better in the second, when Tyrone pieced together two long scoring drives that culminated in rushing touchdowns.
The defensive line, meanwhile, dominated the first half, but gave up several long plays in the second.
“It was a first step, but we made way too many mistakes,” said Franco. “They’re coming along well, and they’ve worked very hard this week at practice. There’s just a lot of work to do.”
Franco said the job of making up for the absence of the team’s key players is something everyone must take on, and he credited senior Shayne Tate and Shane Emigh for doing it against B-A.
Tate rushed for 122 yards despite having only one full day to practice at running back prior to the game. Emigh returned a fumble for a touchdown, intercepted a pass and caught three passes for 43 yards.
Franco also credited receiver-defensive back Brandon Gehret and running back Mark Mingle (17 carries, 77 yards).
“I was pleased with the hustle, pleased with the desire and pleased with the hitting against Bellwood,” Franco said. “But on offense, our execution was horrible. In Week 2, execution is more important than just emotion and excitement.”