|Larry Glace||Josh Graham|
Question No. 1 – how do the Tyrone Golden Eagles – with their mystique, their 34-game regular-season winning streak and their No. 5 Class AA ranking – stack up against the top Quad-A schools from the region?
Question No. 1-A – what is a Quad-A school doing playing two classifications down?
The first question will be answered tomorrow at Jack Hubert Stadium on the campus of Lock Haven University, when the 2-0 Golden Eagles face the 2-0 Central Mountain Wildcats, who have spent the first two weeks of the season unloading on a pair of traditional rivals. Game time will be 7:15 p.m.
The answer to the sub-question is a bit more elusive, but it can be found somewhere buried in the logic of the new-look Mountain Athletic Conference, an awkwardly aligned conglomeration of teams that this season has Triple-A schools in its small school division and two Class AA teams facing Central Mountain.
The rhyme and reason for moves like those may never be adequately understood, but whether or not Tyrone can play with what may be the hottest Quad-A team in Central (and North Central) Pennsylvania will be pretty easy.
Two teams, forty-eight minutes, winners and losers. It’s a challenge Tyrone coach John Franco said the Eagles are relishing in.
“This is honestly one of the few times when we are legitimate underdogs,” Franco said. “The kids are very excited. It’s a chance for us to see where we are and to test ourselves against the best talent. Regardless of the outcome, we’ll know more about our team when it’s over. As a successful Double-A school, you always would like to think you can play against the big boys. We have a chance to see how we match up.”
In many ways, the teams are similar. Both like to run the football and do it effectively, with Tyrone totaling 477 yards in two games and the Wildcats 437. Both like to mix the run with the pass and can do it a lot if they have to. Of Tyrone’s 179 passing yards, 148 came in Week 1. Of Central Mountain’s 405, 260 came in Week 1.
Both have big and physical lines on both sides of the ball. Both have broken some big plays for touchdowns.
The biggest difference, as Franco sees it, is depth, something you might expect when matching big schools and small schools. So while the Wildcats, with a roster of more than 60 players, will be able to substitute and rotate more freely than the Eagles, Tyrone will be playing most of its personnel both ways.
“We think we can offset that with our conditioning,” Franco said.
But if Central Mountain is as good as its first two games seem to indicate, all the conditioning in the world might not make that much difference. In their season-opener, the Wildcats opened up on Jersey Shore in the second half and won going away, 43-29 before traveling last week to Williamsport and dropping 46 points on the Millionaires in a shutout victory.
Along the way, they scored points in every way imaginable – field goals, long runs, long passes, interceptions, punt returns – you name it.
“I don’t think I expected us to score as many points as we have this early in the season,” said Central Mountain coach Steve Turchetta. “But we have played pretty well and hit some big plays. It hasn’t all been just our offense.”
That’s not to say the Wildcats aren’t loaded on that side of the ball. Their offense has accounted for 11 touchdowns – five more than Tyrone – led by two strong rushers and a talented passer. Matt Overdorf (30 carries, 233 yards; 5 receptions, 117 yards) and Scott Zuback (9 carries, 114 yards; 7 receptions, 199 yards) carry most of the workload, while Cody Dolan has completed 16 of 25 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns.
“We have a good balance of running and passing,” said Turchetta. “Our run probably sets up our pass. We’ve got some talented kids to run, kids who can catch the ball and a pretty good quarterback.”
“When you watch them, it’s just big play after big play,” said Franco. “They have several game-breakers and play-makers.”
Tyrone has had some big plays, too – like Larry Glace’s 57-yard touchdown reception against B-A, and his 82-yard run against Huntingdon – but not nearly as many as the Wildcats. Six of their scores have come on plays of 40 yards or more.
That’s a big challenge for a Tyrone defense that looked pretty good last week against Huntingdon. Stopping 12 plays behind the line of scrimmage, Tyrone – behind big games from Matt Murray (2 sacks), Johnny Shaffer (3 tackles for loss) and Shane Walker (blocked punt, recovery) – limited the ‘Cats to negative net rushing yards and recorded its first shutout.
Eric Desch got his second interception of the season, and the Eagles even stopped a late drive that went as far as their own 4-yard line.
Tyrone is allowing just 136 yards a game.
“They’re very well disciplined and well coached,” Turchetta said. “They’re physical and athletic, and they know how to win. Their defense has just been stellar.”
But the Wildcats have a solid defense of their own. They’re allowing 211 yards per game and are particularly strong against the run, allowing only 49 yards per game.
According to Franco, the ‘Cats do a lot on defense schematically, which should come as little surprise, considering that former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is a coordinator on their staff.
“I think I read somewhere that their starting varsity defense has only allowed 82 yards rushing this season. They don’t believe they will give up 100 yards to a team, let alone an individual,” said Franco. “I’m anxious to see how our offensive and defensive lines stack up.”
Tyrone’s greatest strength through two games may well be its defense’s ability to wreak havoc in its opponent’s backfield. After the big game last week against Huntingdon, Tyrone had recorded 20 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.
Murray is tops on the team with 5 tackles for loss, while Shaffer, Dustin Weaver and Jeremy Barlett each had three.
Tyrone’s pass rush has been one reason why opposing quarterbacks have completed just 25 percent of their passes and thrown three interceptions.
Glace and Mark Mingle have each logged a 100-yard game through the first two weeks of the season. Mingle got his in Week 1 with 166 yards against Bellwood-Antis, while Glace’s came with his 149 yards last week.
It’s the fourth straight season the Golden Eagles have had two different running backs rush post 100-yard games.