|Jordan Berry||Levi Reihart|
First instinct, when you look at the series between the Tyrone Golden Eagles and the Philipsburg-Osceola Mounties, is to recall the classics.
Take your pick.
There’s P-O’s 7-6 upset at Memorial Stadium in 2004 that spilled a wave of the reported 7,000 fans on hand onto the field in jubilation.
There’s Tyrone’s 13-7 win in 1987 at Gray Memorial Field, when the Eagles needed a Hail Mary, tip-drill pass from Bob Mertiff to Bill Kimberling to break a 7-7 tie with no time left on the clock.
But in all honestly, games like that are anomalies in a series Tyrone has dominated from the day it began. Against Philipsburg-Osceola High School, a series that dates to 1955, Tyrone owns 40 victories to only 16 losses. Throw in games against Philipsburg High School and Osceola Mills High School before the schools consolidated and the advantage grows to 71-26-5.
The fact is, Tyrone’s series against Philipsburg-Osceola has been a lot like that little girl with the little curl: when it’s been good, it’s been very good. But when it’s been bad, it’s been downright ugly.
Case in point: last season, it took a near perfect drive and two gadget plays for the Golden Eagles to pull out a miracle 14-13 victory over the Mounties at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field. That was a good game.
Two-thousand six was a different story. The Golden Eagles out-gained the Mounties 366-119 in total offense in a blowout victory at Memorial Field that was marred by personal fouls late on both teams.
That was a bad game.
Unfortunately for P-O coach Jeff Vroman and the Mounties, there have been a lot more bad games than good. Since Vroman took over the program in 2002, Tyrone has outscored the Mounties 220-49.
But this year’s game could be different, and that possibility rests squarely on the Mounties’ ability to produce on offense, something P-O has gotten quite good at over the last four weeks.
The numbers are undeniable. Since an embarrassing 34-0 loss to Clearfield in Week 2, when the Bisons limited the Mounties to minus-12 yards of total offense and one first down, P-O’s offense has been on the rise. Over the last four weeks, P-O is averaging 251 rushing yards and 307 total yards per game.
During the same period, the Mounties are also averaging a full touchdown more per game than their overall season average at 24 points per game.
“Our offense got off to a slow start, but after the last four games, I’m pretty pleased,” said Vroman. “We’re averaging over 300 yards a game in those games, so I can’t be too negative.”
“Any team is going to get better as the year goes on,” said Tyrone coach John Franco. “They’ve been trying different things each week, and that keeps you on your toes.”
One of the big reasons for the Mounties’ success has been junior Zack Czap, who has rushed for more than 100 yards three times in the last four games.
“They key to their offense is Czap,” Franco said. “He’s an outstanding football player.”
One of the problems for the Mounties has been holding onto the ball: they have committed 10 turnovers. They rarely happen at good times, but many of P-O’s have been particularly hard to swallow, like the 50-yard interception return for a touchdown the Mounties yielded against rival Bellefonte two weeks ago in the Luther Bowl after P-O had cut the Raiders’ lead to two touchdowns.
“We haven’t allowed an offensive touchdown in the second half the last two weeks,” said Vroman. “Our problem has been giving up big plays.”
That could be a problem again if Tyrone’s offense continues to produce as it has the last three weeks, when it has averaged just under 40 points per game. In that time, the Eagles have shown they can score in a variety of ways, be it an 80-yard, rub-your-nose-in-it, run-the-ball clock-eater, or a quick strike, big play from Levi Reihart to Eric Desch, or Larry Glace or – fill in the blank.
Similar to what’s played out most other years during Franco’s 15-year tenure, the Eagles’ offense is beginning to settle into a rhythm as the second half of the season begins.
“We do a lot of things, and maybe it’s too complex sometimes,” Franco said. “We’re very big on repetition and doing things over and over and over. That usually kicks in about now. You develop good habits and they become reactions in games.”
No matter how you explain it, it’s working. Even without running back Mark Mingle – whose offensive touches have been limited the last two weeks while he battled an infected toe – Tyrone’s running game hasn’t missed a beat. Larry Glace now has 725 yards on 96 carries to go along with 9 scores.
Meanwhile, Reihart continues to get better and better. He’s completed 48 of 74 passes for 767 yards and six touchdowns without throwing an interception. Desch leads the receiving corps with 274 yards on 13 receptions, but he’s just one of four players to total over 100 yards in catches. John Shaffer (15-224), Ben Ingle (11-124) and Glace (5-122) are the others.
Numbers like those make the proposition of outscoring Tyrone remote, so the Mounties may have to turn to its improving, but much maligned, defense.
The Mounties are allowing 27.6 points 344 yards per game. The number expectedly shrinks in their wins to 14.5 points per game.
“Traditionally, their defense has been outstanding,” Franco said. “It’s always given us trouble. They switched to a new defensive coordinator this year, and they’re transitioning to a new defense. That makes them tough to prepare for.”
After missing three games following an emergency appendectomy, linebacker Sharrod Hankerson will be available this week and, according to Franco, will play.
His nose for the ball and hitting will sure up a defense in need of help. That’s not to say the Eagles, who are allowing just 8.5 points per game, have struggled. But they have experienced some personnel issues following the injury of safety Jeremy Barlett in Week 5.
Barlett went down while catching a touchdown pass against BEA. Originally, it was thought to be a knee sprain, but an MRI last week showed a torn ACL. Franco said Barlett is working to make it back by the playoffs.
“It hurts,” said Franco. “He was so good and so smart at his position on defense. That’s a big hole to fill.”
Franco said the team has looked at several moves on defense this week at practice to fill the void left by Barlett.