|Ben Ingle||Zach Gault|
At some point in a 10-week football season, a team comes to a realization that goes something like this: you are who you are.
If you average a couple turnovers a game, that means you’re turnover prone. If you win a lot of 7-0 and 6-3 games, you’re a defensive team.
The question for Tyrone tomorrow at St. Mary’s, will be whether the die has been cast on the 4-1 Flying Dutchmen.
So far, St. Mary’s has run the ball on 83 percent of its offensive plays. They are a running team, and it would be hard to deny the Dutchmen’s success. They’ve piled up 1,194 yards on 179 carries, 6.67 yards per carry, and they’ve scored all 18 of their touchdowns on the ground.
With Tyrone’s penchant for determining what a team does best and taking it away, it will be interesting to see if the Dutchmen are a running team because they want to run, or because they have to run.
“We’re going to have to pass,” said St. Mary’s coach Joe Schlimm. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in our quarterback. We haven’t thrown a lot this season because we haven’t had to. Against Tyrone, we’ll have to show more balance.”
Completing 54 percent of his passes, junior Greg Simchick can’t be too bad. But he’s only thrown the ball 37 times for 243 yards and three interceptions.
Despite the limited role, Tyrone coach John Franco said Simchick, within St. Mary’s offensive scheme, has the ability to beat a team with his arm.
“From the pass plays we’ve seen them run, he’s pretty good,” said Franco. “Even though they’re a wing-T team, he’s a basic drop back passer. They’re one of the best screen teams we’ve seen all year. They have the ability to hurt you in a lot of ways, but the key is to stop the run.”
One thing that makes slowing St. Mary’s running game so difficult is the Dutchmen’s ability to spread the ball around. Four players have rushed for over 100 yards, with two – Kevin Hoy and Michael Straub, over 300. Shane Krise is on the doorstep with 294.
“They’re excellent at running sweeps, they have a nice fullback to keep you honest in the middle, and they have a good counter game,” said Franco. “The quarterback is very deceptive with his ball-handling. They have the ability to make a lot of defenses look silly.”
“We have some quality running backs and some kids with experience who are good athletes,” said Schlimm. “We have some kids with speed to get to the perimeter and we’ve been blessed with some kids with power. And our offensive line has gotten better every week.”
No one has found a way to stop St. Mary’s relentless ground attack yet, but Tyrone will try by getting penetration into the Dutchmen’s backfield, to squelch St. Mary’s misdirection.
“The key to stopping any wing-T offense is you have to get penetration and to key on their guards,” said Franco. “They’ll usually take you to the ball. It’s important that you attack them. The tendency is to get caught staring into the backfield, but you’ve got to just read your keys and attack.”
Lest anyone be concerned, the 4-1 Golden Eagles do plan to attack. After losing for the first time during the regular season in four years two weeks ago against Clearfield, Tyrone got a bit of its swagger back last week with a 41-0 pasting of much-improved Bald Eagle Area. It was a game where the Eagles fired on all cylinders, pitching their second shutout of the season, while totaling 419 yards of offense.
Larry Glace rushed for 169 yards and scored four touchdowns, giving him 579 yards on the season, and Levi Reihart completed 7 of 12 passes for 140 yards. He’s now passed for 650 yards (39-for-58) and four touchdowns without an interception.
Franco said he doesn’t plan to deviate from the offensive balance that has made Tyrone successful through five games, and that’s exactly what Schlimm expects.
“They have no places where they’re vulnerable,” Schlimm said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons, and what they run, they run well. They’re not sloppy. It’s not a team that beats itself.”
While the Eagles rarely beat themselves, they’ve got some other obstacles that are beginning to make the season a little tougher. Jeremy Barlett, a senior defensive back, will miss the game this week after suffering a sprained knee against BEA while pulling in a touchdown pass. He will undergo an MRI today, and – best-case scenario – he could return to playing in two weeks.
But his injury weakens an already thin secondary. Eric Desch, who leads the team with 4 interceptions (along with 246 receiving yards), could be limited on defense again this week, after spraining an ankle two weeks ago. He played sparingly on defense against BEA, but was in long enough to register one pick.
Cody Weaver will shift on defense to fill in for Barlett, and Ben Ingle (2 interceptions) will continue to provide experience and stability in the secondary. But the injuries mean Reihart will have to assume a greater role in the defensive backfield, a scenario that doesn’t exactly thrill Franco.
Fullback Mark Mingle (80 carries, 391 yards) is also recovering after a toe infection limited him almost exclusively to defense last week. He carried the ball just once for 12 yards.
Franco said Tyrone will work with the tandem of Glace and Zach Gault in the backfield to start against St. Mary’s, with Mingle’s role expanding as the game goes on.
“We’ll use Mark as the game goes on to spell Larry, and by the fourth quarter you could see more of Larry and Mark in there together,” Franco said. “We’re really fortunate to have two tough backs we can do that with.”
They may need it against St. Mary’s 3-5-3 defense, which employs five fast linebackers to swarm to the ball. Against Tyrone’s running game, Schlimm said the key would be controlling the line of scrimmage.
“It all starts at the line,” he said. “If you’re successful there, you go a long way in controlling the game.”
Schlimm said his team will also have to overcome any self-doubts his team may have about competing with Tyrone.
“If we’re successful, it adds instant credibility to our program,” Schlimm said. “We’re new to (the MAC Nittany Division) and Central PA football. It’s a great opportunity. For us it will be a confidence thing. We need to believe we belong on the field with Tyrone.”