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Eagles use first half scores to ride to victory through rain and mud over Westmont-Hilltop in District 6-AA quarterfinals

Coach John Franco knew exactly what he wanted to do against Westmont Hilltop last night in the District 5-6 AA quarterfinals.
Fortunately for the Tyrone Golden Eagles, he also had an alternate plan of attack for one of those just-in-case moments.
In a steady November rain that by the second half was coming down in flakes, both Tyrone and the Hilltoppers found moving the ball with consistency a frustrating proposition on the slick grass at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field, negating about half of their playbooks. But by then the Eagles led by two scores, and they were able to put the game in the hands of their capable defense.
Tyrone went on to record its fourth shutout of the season behind a season-high six interceptions, defeating Westmont 14-0 to advance to the District semifinals for the 12th time since 1995.
“It was a very difficult night to do what we wanted to do under the conditions, so you go to Plan B, which we were prepared for,” Franco said. “We thought if we could get a lead, then we were going to try to use our defense and kick the ball away.”
The Hilltoppers, which came into the game as a 5-5 8-seed, didn’t have as much luck with their second option. Trailing Tyrone by two scores, they were forced to go to the air 12 times in the second half, and the result was three Golden Eagle interceptions. On Westmont’s deepest penetration into Tyrone territory – a foray that went as far as the 7-yard line with under a minute to play, Shayne Tate came up with an interception in the end zone to secure the shutout.
“They shut down our running game, and we had to take some chances throwing the football,” said Hilltopper coach Darren McLaurin. “It forced us to play a different style of football than we’re used to and to throw in situations where they knew we were going to throw.”
Junior Ben Ingle, who spent most of the game on the corner locked up with Westy’s top receiver Nick Khuri, finished the game with two interceptions and four passes broken up. Shane Emigh also had two picks, and Johnny Shaffer had his first interception of the season.
Ingle looked particularly sharp in the diciest situations. He defended against several double moves by Khuri and recorded his first pick on a halfback pass.
“The look team guys in practice go hard, and what we see in practice, we see in the game,” Ingle said. “We watch a lot of film, and defensive backs are always ready for big plays, double reverses and halfback passes.”
The win allowed Tyrone, the No. 1 seed, to remain unbeaten at 10-0 and record the 10th 10-win season under Franco. They now await the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal in Spring Mills between Penns Valley and Central Cambria.
Tate moved into the top 10 on Tyrone’s single-season rushing list, passing Chet Wolford for the No. 9 spot. His 116 yards on 27 carries gave him 1,479 yards on the season.
Classmate Johnny Franco played his first complete game of the season, playing every down on defense. He broke up three passes and recorded one tackle behind the line of scrimmage, and said afterwards he felt no lingering pain from the broken leg that kept him out of all but portions of two quarters over the first 9 weeks of the season.
“It feels good. I’m back to almost 100 percent,” Johnny Franco said. “(My feel for the game) came back fast. I watched all of the games, and I watched films with my dad every week, so I can tell sometimes where plays are coming from, and it’s easier to read the quarterback.”
“No pain at all for the first time,” coach Franco said. “After the first series he came up to me and said ‘I want to play offense, too.’”
Johnny Franco got his chance in the third quarter when he played one offensive series, carrying the ball 5 times for 27 yards, while showing exceptional quickness getting to the corner.
But it was Tate who set up Tyrone’s first score on the Eagles opening series. On his second carry, Tate scampered 28 yards down the sideline on a sweep to the left, setting the Eagles up at the Westmont 24. The drive culminated in a 6-yard pass from Reihart to Shaffer that made it 7-0 following Shaffer’s PAT kick. On the play, Reihart froze the defense with play-action, and hit Shaffer in the right corner of the end zone after he slipped behind the defense from the opposite end.
“That was what we wanted to do,” coach Franco said. “We wanted to get them before the field got too bad because once the field gets bad you can throw your script out.”
Tyrone went up 14-0 on its first possession of the second quarter. It was a picture perfect 95-yard drive that lasted 13 plays and six minutes. The highlight of the march was a 39-yard completion from Reihart to Emigh where Emigh laid flat out in the air to pull in the pass at the Westmont 25. Tate carried on three of the next five plays, punctuating the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run with 2:56 left in the half.
From there, the Golden Eagles rested on their defense. Emigh thwarted the Hilltoppers’ ensuing possession by intercepting Josh Swick at the Tyrone 48, and Ingle finished the half by picking off a halfback pass by TJ Keklak.
Westy threatened twice in the second half, starting when Keklak intercepted Reihart on Tyrone’s opening possession and returned it 28 yards to the Tyrone 37. The Hilltoppers got as far as the Tyrone 23, but Ingle broke up a Swick pass on third down, and Franco did the same on fourth to stall the advance.
Shaffer’s interception in the third quarter came at the Westmont 9, giving the Eagles a chance to put the game away, but Tyrone’s sixth procedure penalty of the game on first down moved the ball back to the 14. A third-down sack by David McKolosky put the ball on the 10, forcing a 28-yard field goal that Shaffer missed wide left.
“The only thing disappointing is that we didn’t convert (the turnovers), because I think we could have gotten two more (scores),” coach Franco said. “But that gives us something to work on this week.”
GRID TIDBITS: Tyrone’s defense held Westmont more than 100 yards below its average offensive output … Emigh finished with three receptions for 44 yards … the Golden Eagles have now forced 29 turnovers … Tyrone sacked Swick twice, with Shaffer and Jesse Walk each getting one … Westmont leading rusher Chaz Merriman carried 7 times for 9 yards … Swick finished 8-for-22 for 103 yards and five interceptions … Khuri had three receptions for 40 yards … Wolford has spent 46 years on Tyrone’s top 10 single-season rushing list. He racked up 1,406 yards in 1961 when the Golden Eagles finished 8-2.
Tyrone 14 Westmont-Hilltop 0
Tyrone 7 7 0 0 – 14
Westmont Hilltop 0 0 0 0 – 0
Scoring Summary
First Quarter
T – Shaffer 6 pass from Reihart (Shaffer kick) 5:30
Second Quarter
T – Tate 6 run (Shaffer kick) 2:56
Team
T W
First Downs 11 6
Yards Rushing 162 57
Pass Att.-Comp. 6-12 8-24
Yards Passing 66 103
Total Offense 228 160
Fumble-Rec. 2-0 1-0
Intercepted by 6 0
Pen./Yards 6-30 5-50
Punts/Avg. 5-30.4 3-34.3
Individual
Rushing
Tyrone – Tate 26-116; Franco 5-27; Mingle 2-9; Walk 1-8; Reihart 7-6; Emigh 1-5; Team 2-(-9).
Westmont Hilltop – Glosser 8-36; Merriman 7-9; Keklak 1-8; Felix 4-4; Swick 7-1; Team 1-(-1).
Passing
Tyrone – Reihart 6-12-66, 1 TD, 1 Int.
Westmont Hilltop – Swick 8-22-103, 0 TD, 5 Int.; Keklak 0-2-0, 0 TD, 1 Int.
Receiving
Tyrone – Emigh 3-44; Shaffer 2-14; Gehret 1-8.
Westmont Hilltop – Khuri 3-40; Keklak 4-54; Valcheff 1-9.