|Dustin Weaver||Devin Miller|
Take any senior on the Tyrone football team, grill them on game-time strategies – picking up a blitz off the weak side, adjusting a route based on coverages – and chances are pretty good they’ll have an educated answer for you.
They have to. Coach John Franco drills the fundamentals of the game the way an English teacher waxes on subjects and predicates.
But ask a senior, or a junior for that matter, how to prepare for a game coming off a loss and you might get a blank stare. No player in those classes has ever had to do it before.
That made this week an interesting week at practice for Franco and the Eagles (3-1, 1-1 Nittany Division), who last Friday lost for the first time since October 1, 2004 when they dropped a 35-34 decision to Clearfield, snapping a school-record 35-game winning streak.
“Any other time we’ve lost in the last four years, it’s been a playoff game, so there was no practice the next week,” said Franco. “We just stick with the plan. We don’t change. We continue doing things to try to get better. You try to learn, win or lose.”
But with the loss comes at least one extra concern for Franco that can’t as easily be entered onto a practice schedule and drilled on the field.
“We have to get out there and overcome the loss,” he said. “I don’t know how we’ll respond. After we lost to Philipsburg in 2004, we played Bellefonte the next week and we struggled. And it was a game you would have thought would be much easier. I don’t want to do the same thing this week.”
To prevent a similar letdown, Franco said he’s talked with the seniors to make sure they maintain their focus against a Bald Eagle Area team that’s capable of snapping a streak of its own – its 13-game losing skid against the Golden Eagles.
BEA enters the game 2-2 (2-1 MAFC Nittany Division) – already a big improvement over last season, when the Eagles went winless, save for a forfeit loss it handed back to Huntingdon for using an ineligible player.
But after a 2-0 start, BEA has dropped its last two games and hasn’t scored a touchdown in the last nine quarters.
“The running game has been our strength,” first-year BEA coach Jack Tobias said. “AJ Robinson has done a great job, and so has Jon Gingrich at fullback. And the line has done a really good job of opening holes.
“Our defense has played pretty well. We’re not as deep as a team like Central Mountain, so we tend to get worn down in the fourth quarter.”
That much has played out in Bald Eagle’s four games. BEA opened the season allowing 225 yards and 8.5 points per game in wins over Class AA Philipsburg-Osceola and Penns Valley. Since then, the defense has surrendered 326 yards and 29.5 points per game in shutout losses to Class AAA St. Mary’s and Class AAAA Central Mountain.
That’s a scenario much to the liking of Franco and the Golden Eagles, who pride themselves on outlasting a team in the fourth quarter with conditioning. But it won’t be easy against BEA, which is built to wear on teams much like Tyrone. The Eagles have a large offensive line and two sturdy running backs that attack teams with power.
Robinson leads the ground game—which is averaging over 180 yards per game—with 373 yards on 56 carries, while Gingrich has totaled 153 yards on 17 carries.
“Their size will give us trouble,” said Franco.
Tyrone will counter Bald Eagle’s formidable running game with balance. Of the 1,352 yards the Golden Eagles have accumulated this season, 835 have come on the ground and 518 in the air, making it near impossible to gang up on one area of their offense.
Larry Glace (53 carries, 410 yards) and Mark Mingle (79 carries, 379 yards) lead the ground game, while junior Levi Reihart has come into his own in his second season as the starting quarterback. He’s completed 32 of 46 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception.
Eric Desch (9 receptions, 182 yards) and John Shaffer (10 receptions, 152 yards) have been his top targets, with Ben Ingle (7 receptions, 79 yards) coming on strong the last two weeks.
“Obviously, they’re the best in Double-A,” said Tobias. “They’re very balanced. They get off the ball well, and they intend on punching you in the mouth. They don’t make mistakes and they’re good at what they do.”
BEA, on the other hand, has struggled to achieve balance offensively, with only 31 yards passing. Starting quarterback Derek Noll has completed only 6 of 36 passes and thrown two interceptions.
“We did some things better in the passing game last week,” said Tobias. “We had a lot of dropped passes and some guys didn’t make plays. Sometimes we completed passes and had holding penalties. Those kind of things hurt.”
Still, Franco said he was surprised how often BEA has thrown deep this season. “All they have to do is complete one of those,” he said.
But despite talks of X’s and O’s, Franco said the game will hinge mostly on Tyrone’s mental approach come tomorrow night.
“It’s a big deal for us to come off this loss and see how we respond,” Franco said. “We know they can come in here and beat us. Can we come back after a loss? The seniors and juniors have never done it.”
Franco said there was no concern with the Golden Eagles’ kicking game after last week when Shaffer and Jared Templeton combined to miss three extra-points. He even took most of the responsibility for Shaffer’s late miss of a 46-yard field goal that would have put Tyrone ahead by two with just over a minute to play.
“That was not Shaffer’s miss. It was mine,” he said. “You can’t expect a high school kid to make a long field goal in that situation. Any time a high school kid makes a long field goal, it’s a bonus. I told him before he kicked it – if you miss it’s my fault.
“John is a great kicker, and he always has been. Playing both ways and then making that kick … it’s a tough thing to do. He gave us a chance where other kickers might not have. At the time, I thought the kick was a good decision, but when I look back, I don’t know.”
Two key players saw their playing time limited in the second half against Clearfield. Desch missed most of the second half with an ankle injury, while Glace was hobbled by cramps.
Franco said Glace was fine and would play against BEA. Desch, he said, has a slight ankle sprain and would be a game-time decision.