|Cody Weaver||Tyler Hertzler|
The PIAA has a name for the kind of stretch the Tyrone Golden Eagles will complete this week when they travel to Clearfield for their third consecutive road game: the playoffs.
It has to seem that way. Starting in Week 2 – on the heels of an emotional victory over ultra-rival Bellwood-Antis – Tyrone went on the road to play another traditional rival in Huntingdon before making the haul last week to Central Mountain, a Quad-A school that at the time was undefeated and averaging over 40 points per game.
Now it’s the Bisons, 2-1, a returning District 9 finalist, and year-in and year-out one of the top Class AA teams in the region. They’re also averaging better than 32 points per game.
If this isn’t the playoffs, it’s got to be pretty close.
But in reality, the Eagles are nowhere near the post-season, just three games to what coach John Franco says is the toughest schedule his team has faced in his 15 years at Tyrone. It’s still the regular season, Tyrone still has seven games left on its slate and a win or a loss won’t define or end a season.
That’s why Franco has the Eagles following the same program they always would, no matter what time in the season.
“We’re going one game at a time,” he said. “Last week was a really intense game. It was as intense as a playoff game. It was similar to a playoff game, but it was only the third week of the season. We’re still trying to find our team’s identity.”
If the first three games are any indication, much of the team’s identity has been forged around its defense, and rightfully so. The Golden Eagles have surrendered only a single touchdown – a last second score during mop-up duty against B-A – are allowing just 3 points and 138 yards per game.
Against Central Mountain’s high-powered offense, Tyrone allowed only one second-half first down and 147 total yards. The Wildcats advanced further than Tyrone’s 40 only once, so John Shaffer’s two first-quarter field goals stood up.
But it’s hard to imagine a game against Clearfield being won without scoring touchdowns – lots of them.
“We want to get back on track this week with scoring points, but it will be a challenge,” said Franco. “It’s difficult to win scoring six points. I could see a game with the scoring in the 30s. It will be tough to stop them from scoring.”
There’s one reason why Franco could envision his defense, which is yet to allow 200 total yards, giving up 30 against Clearfield, and it has everything to do with the Bisons’ quarterback, Jarrin Campman.
“He’s a big part of what we do,” said Clearfield coach Tim Janocko. “He has to make plays for our offense to be successful.”
Clearfield runs the same spread offense that has taken the college football world by storm over the last three seasons. It relies heavily on spreading the field, making reads, distributing the football and pressuring the opposing defense.
For Clearfield, Franco said, the offense starts and ends with the multi-faceted Campman, who has passed for 565 yards (42-for-69) with three scoring tosses and rushed 274 yards and 7 touchdowns.
“He is the ultimate playmaker. I can’t remember facing a quarterback as good as him,” Franco said. “Bill Stull from Seton LaSalle comes to mind, but Campman is a much better runner. He has single-handedly beaten teams. As a fan, I love to watch him play. I’ll be excited to see him play in Week 5, but not in Week 4.”
Campman has spread the ball around to a number of different receivers, three of which have over 100 yards receiving (Trey Campman is tops with 20 catches for 214 yards; Derek Danver is second with 9 catches for 128).
“We run an offense that involves a lot of different people, so you have to have a lot of athletes,” said Janocko.
The Eagles’ best defense against may be to win the opening toss and then grind out yards and wind the clock, because anything that keeps Campman off the field will ultimately favor Tyrone.
Last week, Tyrone applied a suitable blueprint when it ran 67 plays to Central Mountains’ 44, dominating time of possession by about 20 minutes.
“Our offense played very well last week,” said Franco. “We almost doubled them in how many plays we ran. Our offense didn’t really make mistakes. We got into the red zone a couple of times, but when we didn’t score it was because they made plays, not because of something we did wrong.”
Senior running backs Larry Glace (33 carries, 289 yards) and Mark Mingle (64 carries, 323 yards) could play another key role. Against the ‘Cats, the duo combined for 160 yards on 31 carries and churned out tough yards to move the sticks and keep the clock ticking.
They had the benefit of running behind what is becoming the top offensive line in the Mountain Athletic Conference in Dustin Weaver, Matt Murray, Jared Templeton, Jerrod Good, Adam Bonsell and Tyler Hertzler.
At the same time, junior Levi Reihart had his best game of the season, completing 15 of 21 passes for 129 yards. On the season, he has completed 24 of 35 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
“They have two big, strong kids who run hard,” said Janocko. “The quarterback has the ability to run a little, too, and he’s effective throwing the ball. We will have to stay balanced on defense.”
But ultimately, if it comes down to making a play on defense, Tyrone may have the kind of players it would take to slow Campman, or at least make a play to change the game. Twelve players have registered stops behind the line of scrimmage, led by Murray’s six, to go along with three sacks. Weaver has four stops for loss, while Shaffer and Jeremy Barlett have three each.
Tyrone has forced at least one turnover in every game, led by Eric Desch, who last week recorded his third interception. The Eagles have also blocked a punt.
“Their defense is very sound,” said Janocko. “They are very well disciplined and well coached.”
The intensity of the weekly turnaround this early in the season can’t be easy on Tyrone, but Franco said it’s something the Eagles have prepared for and are enjoying.
“We were ready for this from the beginning of the year,” he said. “We knew we had to play our best football every week. We knew that by the end of the season, we may not have the same kind of record we’ve had in the past, but we would be better for it in the long run. There’s no break and we can’t afford to relax. That’s a good thing.”