Don’t think Tyrone’s game tomorrow night against Philipsburg-Osceola at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field lost any of its luster when the Mounties were upset last week by the Penns Valley Rams.
Sure, it’s no longer 6-0 versus 6-0, but it’s still the most compelling game that will take place in the MAC Nittany Division this season, pitting the conference’s top offense (P-O is averaging almost 26 points per game) against its best defense (the Eagles are allowing 2.6 points per game and have yet to surrender more than a single touchdown in any game).
It’s also the closest thing to a conference championship outside of a playoff. If the Golden Eagles win, they’ll take a 5-0 conference record into their MAC finale against Central at Roaring Spring in two weeks, while a Mountie win would create a three-team logjam at the top of the standings that includes the once-beaten Rams.
If that sounds like pressure, it won’t be Tyrone that’s gripping. Since John Franco took over at Tyrone in 1994, few teams have played as many big regular season games.
“We really look forward to games like this,” Franco said. “They’re fun games. It’s a chance for us to see if we’re any good. We’re anxious to see if we’re worthy of the 6-0 record.”
As good as the Mounties (2-1 in the MAC) have been, they would like to think they’re better than 5-1, but a week ago they were tripped up by Penns Valley on the road in a 13-10 double-overtime loss. True to form, Valley’s increasingly confident defense held P-O to its season-low point total while forcing four turnovers.
P-O coach Jeff Vroman said his main concern this week was refocusing his team after an unexpected loss.
“The kids have definitely been focused this week,” said Vroman. “Anytime you lose a tough game like that, it’s difficult. But the key we’ve been trying to tell the kids this week is to remember it’s a long season. This is another week.”
The Mounties played uncharacteristically against the Rams. Quarterback Bo Reifer, who has thrown for over 600 yards and seven touchdowns, was just 4-for-10 for 26 yards and a pair of interceptions. Hulking fullback Dimitri Sidorick (92 carries for 518 yards) managed only 51 yards. And big-play receiver JD Mason had just one reception for 11 yards.
As a whole, P-O’s Wing-T offense, which features five backs who have collected over 100 rushing yards and two receivers with 12 or more receptions, managed just 41 offensive plays and 143 yards of total offense.
Franco said he had watched the tape of that game at least 10 times and couldn’t believe the Mounties weren’t able to move the ball more effectively because of the number of weapons they have.
“It’s the most weapons I’ve seen on a P-O team since I’ve been here,” he said. “They have a quarterback who is a great passer who also runs very well, a fullback who might be the best in our area, and an All-State caliber wide receiver who presents a big target. They’re simply the best team we’ve played this season and our biggest challenge.”
It’s a challenge Franco thinks his defense is ready for. The Golden Eagles have three shutouts under their belt, holding four teams without a touchdown, but they’re yet to see an offense as effective as P-O’s.
“I think a lot of what has made Tyrone so successful is their scheme defensively,” said Vroman. “Coach Franco and Steve Guthoff do a good job with their schemes and alignments. We’re trying to make our kids more familiar with their different looks. They make so many adjustments to what you do, and that’s really the key.”
The Eagles’ alignments and variations have created havoc for their opponents. They’ve caused 15 turnovers and sacked the quarterback 12 times, part of 37 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Johnny Shaffer leads the team in tackles for loss with 7.5, while Josh Bradley is second with 6. Brandon Gehret leads the team with 4 takeaways, including two picks he returned for scores.
“That’s usually what a game like this comes down to – a turnover, a penalty,” said Franco. “In games with teams so evenly matched, that’s usually the key.”
That may put the advantage in Tyrone’s favor. The Golden Eagles are coming off one of their cleanest performances of the season in last Friday’s 28-7 win over Punxsutawney, a game where the Eagles had no offensive pre-snap penalties and no turnovers by way of fumbles.
All the while, the Eagles offense continued to emerge from the shadow cast by the leg injury of senior Johnny Franco. Tyrone’s 28 points against the ‘Chucks helped to boost their scoring average to 23 points per game, after failing to reach 20 the first three weeks of the season. Its 413 total yards was a season-best.
A lot of that is due to the work of senior Shayne Tate, who is now on the cusp of becoming Tyrone’s 14th 1,000-yard rusher. With his career-high 282 yards on 15 carries against Punxsy, Tate now has 986 yards and 8 touchdowns on 106 carries (9.3 yards per carry).
Others have emerged, as well. Despite throwing two interceptions last week, sophomore Levi Reihart has steadily improved at quarterback, completing 36 of 64 passes for 388 yards.
Shane Emigh has caught 14 passes for 153 yards, while rushing for over 100 yards and three touchdowns.
Franco said his offense will have to be on its game to move the ball against a P-O defense he characterized as underrated.
“I think their defense is as good as Penns Valley’s,” Franco said. “Even last year, even though we broke some big plays on them, I thought their defense was very tough. They’re flawless in their execution of their 50 defense.”
Big Play Defense
The numbers support Franco’s lofty perception of the P-O defense. They’ve forced 16 turnovers, including five interceptions by Mason, and recorded 12 sacks. The Mounties have also blocked three kicks, including two by Sidorick.
In P-O’s 20-7 win over Bald Eagle Area in Week 5, Zac Czap returned a fumble recovery 19 yards for a touchdown.
Vroman said the biggest key for his team would be its ability to move the ball and sustain drives against a Tyrone offense that has scorched them for 30 or more points in four of their last five match ups.
“In the past, we haven’t moved the ball consistently against Tyrone,” Vroman said. “That’s something we’ve really worked hard at. We need to give ourselves field position and give our defense a break.”
Living in the 90s
When Tate broke loose on a 97-yard touchdown run in the first quarter last week against Punxsy, he accomplished a rare feat that’s not quite the anomaly at Tyrone as it may be elsewhere.
Tate became Tyrone’s third different back in the last three seasons to score on a touchdown run of 90 yards or more. In 2005, Brit Mingle scored on a 92-yard run at the start of the second half against Penn Cambria in the District 6-AA playoffs en route to a 47-30 Golden Eagle victory. Last season, Johnny Franco tore off a 98-yard scoring run in a 42-0 win over Bishop Guilfoyle.