Tyrone’s running game should shine at P-O

If you think back to signature moments in individual eras throughout the history of the Tyrone football program, Philipsburg-Osceola was there for a lot of them.

In 1987, Bill Kimberling’s miracle catch on Homecoming with no time left on the clock came against the Mounties, and it provided an improbable win for a team that was already labeled the “Cardiac Kids” and headed to a District championship.

in 1995, during the first championship season for legendary coach John Franco, the Big 8 showdown of the year was between the Golden Eagles and P-O, and in a low-scoring slobber-knocker Tyrone’s Joe Thomas took a safety in punt formation late in the game to protect a 6-5 win.

There are many others. The Mounties defeated Tyrone 7-6 at Memorial Field in 2004 in front of a capacity crowd that came to see two undefeated titans go head to head. In 2007 the Mounties led the Eagles with just over a minute to play in Tyrone before two  gadget plays, including a half-back-throwback pass from Shayne Tate to Levi Reihart, keyed a 14-13 victory that extended the team’s regular-season winning streak to a record 30 games.

With that said, it’s hard to imagine that it’s come to this for P-O. At 0-3 the Mounties are looking a seventh straight sub-.500 season square in the eyes as they prepare to host Tyrone tomorrow at 7 p.m. in a Mountain League matchup.

More than losing three in a row to start the season, the Mounties have been overmatched. Their 55-7 loss to Bellefonte last week capped an opening stretch that saw them lose their opener to 1A West Branch 32-14 before dropping a conference game to Bald Eagle Area 46-14.

It doesn’t take a numbers cruncher to tell P-O’s defense is a big problem. The Mounties have allowed more than 700 rushing yards and are yet to produce a turnover; conversely, they’ve coughed it up eight times and are yet to generate enough offensively to keep opponents from simply teeing off and taking shots.

Tyrone is trending decidedly in the opposite direction. At 3-0, the Golden Eagles are hoping to maintain the momentum they built with blowout wins over Central and Bishop McCort. They will follow their game against P-O with three consecutive games versus teams that are undefeated heading into Week 4, and they’re all from the Mountain League.

What to watch for: 

  • Three indicators point to a possible big night for Tyrone senior Zac Albright. First, the Mounties struggle mightily against the run, and they’re not getting better, having allowed a season-high 330 yards last week against Bellefonte. Beyond that, Wilson wants to use Albright to help make his team better on first downs. In his talk heading into Friday’s game Wilson emphasized his desire for the Eagles to be more “efficient” offensively, and that begins, he said, with playing better on first down. Finally, Albright and his sturdy offensive line are itching to do the job. Albright has run for 388 yards this season, just missing 100 yards twice while burning Central for 200 yards.

“We want to establish our running game, and I think we can do well in that area,” said Wilson. “Overall, (the offensive line is) doing really well, especially compared to last year. Even if someone makes a mistake or goes to block the wrong guy, we’re moving people out of the way. I like the aggressiveness and how we’re attacking people up front.”

  • The effectiveness of Tyrone’s running game has been a welcome relief for Wilson. The Eagles didn’t produce a 100-yard rusher last season until Week 5, and their inability to run the ball consistently put the offense in a lot of bad situations, many of which left quarterback Denver Light hanging out to dry in search of a big play to convert on long down and distances. The improvement of Alrbight and the offensive line have changed that, and now Tyrone is looking for splash plays on its own terms, which has made Light a much better signal caller. He’s completed 30 of 55 passes for 530 yards with seven touchdowns, including a career-best four last week against Bishop Carroll. A group of fresh-faced underclassmen receivers who aren’t afraid to make plays hasn’t hurt Light either. Sophomore Damon Gripp (8-170), junior Brandon Homan (4-133) and sophomore Tommy Hicks (8-102) have made an immediate impact in their first seasons as starters, and they’ve given Tyrone’s offense downfield threats that keep defenses honest.

 

  • Among the group, Homan is a unique case. He never went out for varsity football until after the Backyard Brawl in 2017, which meant he missed the entire training camp his sophomore season. He rose to a backup role in six weeks but never became a regular contributor until this season, and he’s been incredible. Along with his offensive numbers, which include two touchdowns, Homan’s understanding of Tyrone’s zone coverage schemes and his superior closing speed have helped make Tyrone’s secondary as good as it’s been since 2014.

“He’s very smart,” said Wilson. “He’s very athletic and hardworking. This offseason he was always in the weight room and he came to all of our clinics. He knows his stuff, and he feels comfortable out there. You only need to tell him once, and he understands how you want it done. So you mix how smart he is with his athletic ability, and that’s a pretty good formula.”

  • After dropping 10 of Bishop Carroll’s plays in the backfield last week, the Golden Eagles are now averaging seven tackles for loss per game. They’re forcing three turnovers per game, and they’re allowing only 73 yards on the ground. It’s been a dominant unit. And while the emergence of the Golden Eagles secondary as a shutdown defensive component has been a big part of the group’s resurgence, much of the credit has to go to the defensive line rotation. The combination of Arik Reader, Isaac Jackson, Braeden Nevling-Ray and Kyle Silva has accounted for 12.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, with Jackson leading the team at five. Senior Cory Lehman, on outside linebacker who often lines up on the edge, has two tackles for loss and a sack.

“The defensive line has been very aggressive,” said Wilson. “They’re dropping people in the backfield and causing problems where teams have to bounce plays outside. They have been very disruptive.”

  • When Light went out with a minor injury against Central, Brandon Lucas came in and threw a touchdown pass – one that was called back but a nice play nonetheless. When Keagan Raabe was injured last week, Kyle Silva came in to kick off. Tyrone is rotating two extra defensive linemen, and the defensive backs they’ve got standing on the sidelines are just about as good as the ones on the playing field. In short, the Golden Eagles have depth, which is something that was missing in 2016 and 2017. It has allowed them to avoid the pitfalls that occurred in 2016, when a quick start to the season was derailed by injuries to players like AJ Grassi, Parker Mitchell, Alex Weaver and Gary Weaver, but it’s done even more for morale.

“No one feels safe about their position,” said Wilson. “On practice, someone is always on their heels and they know someone is waiting to take their job. We didn’t have that last year. Adding the competition has been huge for us.”

  • When Raabe went down last week after a poor snap forced him to run with the ball on a botched PAT, it looked like little more than a young player taking a bad bump. Raabe hopped up quickly before he was aided to the sidelines by his teammates. Afterwards, Wilson said he seemed fine. There was no threat of a head injury, and Wilson was even able to lightly say next time he would suggest Raabe just take a knee in a similar situation. That light mood changed quickly as Raabe learned the next day his season was over after suffering an ACL tear on the play. It’s a tough way to end the season for a kicker who had never played football, and yet made a difference from day one. He had a 20-yard field goal against B-A to seal the Backyard Brawl, and he added another 20-yarder last week. He had also nailed 9 PATs. Silva will handle the kicking in his place.

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