|Matt Murray||Eric Desch|
Here’s the concern for John Franco as the Tyrone Golden Eagles head into their Week 2 game against Huntingdon: In the season-opener, Tyrone looked better than anyone could have expected, moving the ball at will against Bellwood-Antis and dominating the line of scrimmage in a 27-6 win.
That’s the good part. The bad part is, Huntingdon looked so-so against Mount Union, totaling just 183 yards in a 7-6 victory.
Franco is wondering whether his team is smart enough not to let the numbers inflate their egos.
“We can’t bask in our own glory,” said Franco, who is 10-4 against the Bearcats at Tyrone. “The Bellwood game is over and now it’s Week 2. That’s my biggest concern. I’m not sure if these guys realize that they have to get themselves emotionally up for this game the same way they did Bellwood. They can give it lip service all they want, but I need to see that intensity on the field.”
Specifically, Franco said the Eagles have to understand that not only is the game a traditional rival that, in some years, surpasses the season-opener against Bellwood-Antis, but that the Bearcats have more than likely been readying for this game since training camp opened in August. On top of that, the game is at War Vets Field in Huntingdon – the ‘Cats home-opener – a venue as challenging as any in the Nittany Division.
“I honestly believe they’ve probably prepared for us for a couple weeks now,” said Franco. “We can’t do that because the Bellwood game is so tough. And playing at home gives them an edge. Huntingdon always has intense crowds. It should be similar to what you get when we play Bellwood.”
The game also has conference significance for the first time since 2003, the year Huntingdon topped Tyrone 23-20 in overtime at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field, and the last season the teams played in the Big 8.
Now, Huntingdon has dropped down to the MAC Nittany Division from the big school Seven Mountains. They’ve also moved into the AA classification in District 6.
Not that the ‘Cats needed any further motivation. Huntingdon hasn’t beaten Tyrone in five years, and that’s not something that sits well 19 miles down Route 22.
“Our rallying cry is basically enough is enough,” said Bearcat coach Jim Zauzig. “At times I wonder how many of our kids might have been looking ahead a little bit (against Mount Union). But it’s here now, and we’re really looking forward to Friday night.”
The ‘Cats were able to move the ball at times against the Trojans, but cashing in was a problem. Part of that, Zauzig said, is because Mount Union is not the Mount Union of recent memory. “Mount Union is the real deal,” he said.
Part of it was also that Huntingdon never asserted itself in the trenches until the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t take control of the line of scrimmage until late,” said Zauzig. “And the passing game is not where I want it to be. Offensively, we’re behind the mark.”
It was a different story for Tyrone, whose offense looked as sharp as it did in Week 9 last season, when it plastered 47 points all over Central. The Eagles netted 375 total yards – 239 on the ground, 148 through the air – and made big plays, despite relying heavily on the straight-ahead bruising style of senior Mark Mingle (23 carries, 160 yards).
“We’re facing another big, powerful runner in Mingle,” Zauzig said. “We’re going to have to tackle.”
“They return eight starters on defense,” said Franco. “They’re going to be much better in that area. They also have exceptional defensive backs that are playmakers. They’re solid up front, and it’s Tyrone-Huntingdon. This game always turns things up a notch.”
What could separate the teams is Tyrone’s ability to spread the ball and diversify its offense at such an early point in the season. Four different receivers caught passes for the Eagles against the Blue Devils, led by Larry Glace (2 catches for 76 yards) and Eric Desch (2 for 55). Six players made plays of 10 yards or more. Levi Reihart completed 5 of 6 passes for 141 yards.
But as Franco is quick to note, those numbers don’t carry over into the second week of the season.
“We can’t afford to step on the field and think they’re just going to bow down to us because we’re Tyrone,” he said. “We have to remember what we did to beat Bellwood, and that’s playing aggressive, hard-hitting Tyrone football.”
Since Zauzig became Huntingdon’s head coach in 1997, he and Franco have squared off 11 times, with Franco holding a 7-4 advantage.
Considering the success each has had at their current schools, you can imagine their desire to stick with what works, which makes game-planning for this game a challenge for both coaches, but in different ways.
The dilemma: do we stick with our bread and butter or break out something new to give a different look.
“We use the same basic core (of plays), but it’s the subtleties you add that make the difference between winning and losing,” Franco said. “We try to add wrinkles from year to year, as everyone does, and find ways to best utilize our personnel. That’s the difference: trying to find your strengths and plan for them.”
But while Franco’s challenge is finding new ways to do the old stuff that works, for Zauzig, it’s sticking with more of the old stuff, instead of getting caught up in a chess game.
“When I look at what John (Franco) does, I’ve noticed he doesn’t do a lot, but what he does is done with precision. It’s not fancy. He’s just coming at you. I try to take something away from that for myself as a coach. I find myself saying ‘Don’t over-coach Jim. Don’t over-coach.’ A lot of times, especially against Tyrone, I find myself thinking about what John is trying to do and then I get too cute.
“I need to remember to keep it simple. I have a sign in our locker room right outside the coaches room so the coaches can see it every time they leave. It says, ‘It doesn’t matter what we know; it’s what they know.’ It’s not always X’s and O’s. With John, it’s not X’s and O’s. They just out-execute us. I need to remember to just run our stuff.”
Pre-Game Ceremony –
Featuring Slug Drake
Before kickoff, Huntingdon will honor a football team celebrating its silver anniversary, and Tyrone grad Lynn “Slug” Drake will be on hand as part of the pre-game ceremonies.
This weekend, the Huntingdon class of 1958 – whose football team finished 6-3-1 during the 1957 season – will be celebrating its 50th reunion. As part of the festivities, the football team will be recognized, first with a short parade, and then with its captains serving as honorary captains for the coin toss before the game.
Zauzig said that as he was planning the event, one memory most of the players had was of beating Tyrone in 1956 – a Tyrone team that finished 9-1 and was led by Drake, a two-time All-State lineman and Sporting News All-American.
Huntingdon defeated Tyrone 12-7 in 1956, but lost 19-12 in 1957.
So Zauzig called Drake and let him know that most of the players from the squad remembered the game, and specifically, Drake.
He invited Drake to participate in the coin toss ceremony, and Drake accepted. Other members of the 1957 Orange and Black may be on hand for the ceremony as well.