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Struggling Panthers visit Tyrone Homecoming

Jerrod Good Wesley Young

You’re Lewistown coach Allen Muir and you’re struggling through an 0-7 season.
Now you have to break down film on Tyrone. Like most coaches, you’re looking for some soft spots, one or two areas you can attack to move the sticks and cash in a couple times.
And this is what you see: Tyrone demolishing its last three opponents by an average of 36 points per game. Larry Glace and Mark Mingle rambling past, around and over top of defenses for big gain after big gain. Levi Reihart making plays with his arm and his legs. A defense stingier than Ebenezer Scrooge.
Think you might have some sleepless nights?
Those are the real concerns of Muir as his Panthers prepare to play Tyrone tomorrow at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field in a MAC Nittany Division game. It is also Tyrone’s homecoming.
“They’re big, strong and fast, and they don’t make mistakes,” Muir said. “You look at them on film and try to find a weakness, but there really isn’t one. They’re very well coached. Basically, it boils down to Lewistown players against Tyrone players, and we’ll see who makes the most plays.”
So far this season, the Eagles have been making all the plays. Glace is on the cusp of 1,000 yards (117 carries, 852 yards) and Mingle isn’t far behind (97 carries, 578 yards). Reihart is having the kind of season junior quarterbacks dream of (57-for-87, 878 yards, 6 TDs).
Four receivers, including Eric Desch (16-332) and John Shaffer (16-231) have over 100 yards receiving. The defense has already registered 46 tackles for loss, 16 sacks and 11 takeaways.
Things have certainly been clicking, but it hasn’t been as easy as it has sometimes looked. It’s taken a lot of hard work, and that’s why Tyrone coach John Franco says there is no way the Eagles (6-1, 4-1 Nittany Division) overlook struggling Lewistown (0-6, 0-7).
“We can’t afford to take any games off. There aren’t a lot of football games like other sports,” said Franco. “It’s like college football where every game becomes a playoff game. In other sports, you have 20 games, and everyone makes the playoffs, so the regular season is all for seeding. If we lose a game, we get racked in points, and our goal is to earn a No. 1 or 2 seed. That makes the Lewistown game very important. That may be why we’ve done well in games like this over the years.”
To say Tyrone has played well against Lewistown under Franco would be a drastic understatement along the lines of, “Ted Williams was a good hitter.” In 14 seasons, they’ve outscored the Panthers 473-81, with six shutouts and five other games where Lewistown has scored only a single touchdown.
But that doesn’t make the 2008 version of Lewistown-Tyrone a gimmie, mainly because of the challenges presented by Lewistown’s no-huddle, spread offense.
“It’s difficult to defend against the spread with no huddles,” said Franco. “We’ve got to rush the quarterback and shut down their passing game.”
Two issues make stopping Lewistown’s passing game a problem. One is Tyrone is adjusting to the movement of four defensive players a week ago to different positions. Among the moves were Glace moving to safety and Matt Murray and John Shaffer flip-flopping their positions as weak-side and strong-side defensive ends, respectively.
They didn’t look bad in last week’s 35-7 win over Philipsburg-Osceola, save for one play where Glace was caught out of position in coverage on a P-O touchdown pass. But now they’ll be tested against a completely different style of offense from the Mounties’ wing-T.
“Our guys who are switching positions are doing it against two of the hardest offenses to do it against,” said Franco.
The other is the caliber of Lewistown’s quarterback, coach’s son Connor Muir, who has rushed for 355 yards, while throwing for 481. He’s also accounted for six of the Panthers’ nine touchdowns.
“They have a great quarterback,” said Franco. “He throws as well as anyone we’ve played. He’s the next best quarterback in our league behind (Clearfield’s Jarrin Campman). He makes plays.”
“Connor is a very hard worker,” Muir said. “He’s watched a lot of film with me in the spring and summer when I’m game-planning.
“In 9th grade, he knew the offense as well as some of the coaches because it was new to them. It’s definitely an advantage, and it’s been a blessing to coach him.”
But despite Muir’s ability to hurt teams with his legs and his arm, Lewistown has still has some holes to fill, mainly on defense. The Panthers are yet to hold a team under 30 points, and they’ve allowed 40 or more four times.
They’ve also found it difficult to stop the run, and that has been Tyrone’s bread and butter.
“We’re very concerned about the run,” said Muir. “Our defense has had trouble the last couple of years stopping the run. We’re very concerned with (Mark) Mingle and (Larry) Glace, but against Tyrone, you can’t say you’re going to come up and play solely run support, either.”
Tyrone’s defense, meanwhile, has been steady as always. The Eagles are surrendering just 95 rushing yards per game and 70 passing – this despite a shootout in Week 4 against Clearfield that skewed all of the numbers. They’ve also forced 11 turnovers, led by Desch’s four picks, and recorded 46 tackles for loss, led by Matt Murray’s 8 TFL and 5 sacks.
12th Man
It takes a lot to get Franco to show overt excitement in the eighth week of a football season. There are too many other points of focus to keep him firmly rooted in the game at hand.
But the unveiling of the new 12th Man Banner before tomorrow’s game is different. Franco is genuinely enthused to see the banner unveiled, and to see the fans reaction.
He said the banner will be raised just before the team takes the field in an effort to get the crowd motivated and loud.
“We want the crowd to be roaring when the players come out,” he said.