Tyrone heads to Central for an early test

The book is still out to a degree on Central’s offense. Certainly it made some plays a week ago in its win over Northern Bedford, but it’s going to take same time to see if it can develop the kind of quality depth that has made the Dragons so dangerous over the last six seasons.

The defense is a different story.

The Dragons beat Northern Bedford handily last Friday, 32-6, and while their point total may belie an offense that still has a lot of questions to answer, their defense was as-advertised. Central forced four turnovers, including three interceptions of Panther quarterback Case Donaldson, registered a pair of sacks, and made nine stops behind the line of scrimmage.

It was the kind of dominating performance teams have grown to expect from the Dragons, who are the next opponent up for Tyrone this week in a game slated for Roaring Spring, Friday at 7.

“It’s the typical Central defense we’ve seen over the last five or six years,” said Tyrone coach Jason Wilson. “They’re hard to run against and they play tight man on the outside. Their defense is probably ahead of their offense at this point, but their offense is still good. We’re going to have to contain them.”

Central’s defensive scheme is centered around allowing its athletes to be athletes and make plays.

The Golden Eagles, fresh off a win over Bellwood-Antis in the Backyard Brawl in the season opener, plan to attack it right where it would seem most impenetrable.

“We still want to establish the run,” said Wilson. “I thought Northern Bedford had that opportunity against them. They stack the box and their linebackers are so close to the line of scrimmage, if you can hit a play and get past them there’s always that chance for a big play.”

The Golden Eagles had only a handful of splash plays against B-A, and few players stood out as the kind of burners who could take a short gain and turn it single-handedly into a big one, but Wilson likes his odds against the Dragon’s risk-taking defense.

While Zac Albright ran for 95 yards against B-A and scored a touchdown, his bruising, downhill style is much better suited for gaining ground in small chunks rather than large swaths.  So if Tyrone is going to take advantage of the Dragons’ close-in alignment, it’s going to come by way of quarterback Denver Light and his green corps of receivers.

Light threw for 230 yards on 14-for-23 passing last week, putting to rest any notion that he wasn’t ready to return to the position he had manned for a season-and-a-half before being replaced in the middle of 2017. He did it by spreading the ball around to six different receivers, and the unit’s depth may be its biggest strength. Damon Gripp, Cory Lehman, Logan Reader, Tommy Hicks, Albright and Brandon Homan not only have the ability to shake free and secure a pass, but the group is often on the field together in total, creating a situation where it’s almost impossible for someone not to be open.

Among them there are few burners, though the speed of Gripp and Homan could lend itself to the kind of downfield shots Wilson prefers to take against press coverage.

“We took our shots against Bellwood when they got up on us, and we might have to do that this week, too,” said Wilson. “The ultimate key is establishing the running game.”

Defensively Tyrone will be faced with a quarterback similar in many ways to B-A’s Shawn Wolfe. In Noah Muthler, the Dragons have a talented runner who can also make throws, and whose strength derives from his maneuverability. A week ago, the Eagles limited Wolfe to 4-of-10 passing and sacked him four times, which makes the matchup with Muthler even more intriguing.

Muthler was a one-man offensive weapon in the win over Northern Bedford, throwing for 154 yards and two touchdowns while running for 91 and two more scores. Certainly he was aided by a strong defensive performance that smothered the Panthers and provided Muthler with prime field position, but at the end of the day the senior made plays in his first start as “the guy.”

“They like to put someone there who is a playmaker,” said Wilson. “Muthler is shifty. He has good speed. He cuts well. At the end of the day they’re trying to get him in open space.”

Wilson said one of the ways Central has attempted to do that is through a greater emphasis on traditional option plays. Last week, the option may have been Bellwood’s most successful running play, but Wilson thinks his team is ready to see it in Roaring Spring this week.

“We focused on defending it this week,” Wilson said. “We focused on it last week, too, because of Wolfe. I don’t think we did terribly against it last week. It’s always a matter of making sure everyone knows who has what responsibility. Last week we may have had defensive backs who were out of position because of formations or had trouble getting off blocks.”

Tyrone would also like to be every bit as disruptive on defense as it was against the Blue Devils. While Light led the team with 13 tackles it was players like Kyle Silva (2 sacks), Braeden Nevling-Ray (2 sacks/fumble recovery) and Cory Lehman (sack/forced fumble) who really put their stamp on the game by getting into the backfield and blowing up the Devils’ offensive schemes.

That’s never easy to do against the Dragons, who have clearly established themselves as the team to beat in the 3A classification, with three District titles in the last five years.

But for the first time since 2014, when the Golden Eagles dropped Central 20-13, Wilson feels the strength on strength matchups are more or less even.

“We’ve got to eliminate big plays. They want to get guys in space, but I think we match up well there,” he said.

WHAT 2 WATCH 4

  • Every game has its three segments – offense, defense, and special teams – that coaches use as focal points for winning football, but there’s another when you play Central and that’s trick plays. Offensive coordinator AJ Hoesntine has never been afraid to use them if for no other reason than to establish that he can, and to see what works. An offense that can generate as many plays as the Dragons can be afforded that luxury. Tyrone’s secondary is young and all but Albright will be facing Hoenstine and Central for the first time, so an interesting matchup is that group against the Dragons’ bag of tricks.
  • One of the masterful jobs Tyrone’s coaching staff accomplished last week was instilling the discipline in its defensive unit to string out B-A’s speedy backs and keep them contained without turning the ball up the field for big gains. That will be something to look for again this week. Muthler likes to run, and he has shown he is capable. Keeping him in the pocket, preventing him from turning plays upfield, will be a challenge for the defense, but one it has faced already.
  • Denver Light made gigantic steps last week in his maturation as Tyrone’s signal caller, and at the end of the day the offense is going to hinge on his performance. Central will bring heat on him that Bellwood couldn’t, but there were positive signs against the Blue Devils. On the occasions when a lineman would get through in pursuit of Light he used his speed to avoid the rush and remained focused on the progression of the play. When things got to tight, he never made the mistake of tossing up a 50-50 ball. Further improvement and development in this area will bode well for the Golden Eagles.
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