Through three games Tyrone’s offense had been explosive, dynamic and exciting, producing big plays and showing a diversity and flexibility it had lacked for the better part of the last two seasons.
It was been refreshing, and it was part of the reason the Golden Eagles were 3-0 heading into their game against Philipsburg-Osceola last night.
But even with all of the strides the Eagles had taken on offense – like point totals of 33 and 44 in Weeks 2 and 3 – this team was still built on its defense.
And it was on defense that Tyrone was able to find its footing and make a couple of plays to regain control against the Mounties after faltering in the first half.
The Golden Eagles won 32-14 at Philipsburg-Osceola High School, rallying from a 14-6 deficit. The reason? Somewhere midway through the second quarter the unit decided enough was enough.
“I saw the urgency that we had to have,” said sophomore outside linebacker Matt Clifton, who combined with senior Braeden Nevling-Ray on two game-changing sacks in the second quarter. “I saw everybody hoping that we could pull something out, and I went in.”
While some of his teammates were hoping the game would shift, Clifton entered the fray and shifted it himself. With the Mounties up 14-12 with six minutes left in the first half, he used his speed to break off the edge and smother P-O quarterback Ryan Whitehead for a 12-yard loss to the Mounties 19. On the next play, he and Nevling-Ray combined to drop Whitehead for 5-yard setback.
After two straight touchdown-producing drives that generated 126 yards, P-O would finish the half with three series netting minus-15 yards and resulting in a defensive touchdown.
The Eagles followed up Clifton and Nevling-Ray’s sack show with a 35-yard drive to take the lead after Zac Albright, who ran for 109 yards on 19 carries, scored on a 10-yard run at the 2:34 mark of the second quarter to make it 18-14.
Clifton and Nevling-Ray got to Whitehead one more time on the Mounties’ next play from scrimmage, and two plays later he was picked off by Damon Gripp, who returned the steal 48 yards for his second pick-six of the season to make it 26-14 at halftime.
The ball went through the hands of TJ Thompson and was batted in the air by Tommy Hicks before Gripp came away with it. It was his fifth interception this season.
“That was another missed opportunity,” said first-year P-O coach Brian McGonigal. “It went right through our kid’s hands, it hits off a Tyrone helmet, and lands in Gripp’s hands. We just didn’t have the ball bounce our way tonight.”
For Nevling-Ray it was one more example of the defense doing what needed to be done in a game where the offense played well in fits and spurts only. For that group, it became a matter of pride after P-O scored its second touchdown to take the lead on a 19-yard pass from Whitehead to Nick Keith at the 9:29 mark of the second quarter.
“We were pretty upset after the first touchdown, but as soon as they scored the second touchdown that turned things around,” said Nevling-Ray. “We knew we were a better team, and they shouldn’t have scored that many points on us. I felt a lot of people were slouching in the beginning, and I felt that if I brought it maybe everyone else would pick it up, with me being a leader.”
In the end the game came down to a six minutes of the second quarter when the Eagles could do little wrong on either side of the ball. They got within two midway through the period with a drive where Light demonstrated pinpoint accuracy, going 5-for-5 to march the Eagles 57 yards. For the touchdown he lofted a perfectly placed ball to Cory Lehman on a flag pattern for a 26-yard score.
Albright scored four minutes later to give Tyrone its first lead since a 22-yard scamper by Light in the first quarter had opened the scoring. Gripp’s touchdown came a little more than a minute after that.
Those bursts are nice, and through four games Tyrone has shown it has big-play ability, but Wilson wasn’t thrilled with his team’s inconsistency or its lack of motivation.
“The second quarter was really the only quarter where we played good football,” said Wilson, whose team remained unbeaten at 4-0 and improved to 3-0 in the Mountain League. “In the first quarter and second half, I just thought we were sluggish. I didn’t feel like we ever got the momentum going. It never felt like we got into our rhythm.”
Tyrone scored on its first series of the second half, going 69 yards to score on a 6-yard run by Albright, but on the heels of a strong drive the Eagles turned the ball over twice and never quite got their footing offensively in the third or fourth quarters.
“I told these guys, don’t overlook their record,” said Wilson. “Maybe that’s what we were doing, or looking ahead to next week, I don’t know. Luckily, we were able to get focused in the second quarter and change it back after they took the 14-6 lead because at that point they had a lot of the momentum, and we just looked drained and flat.”
Next week for Tyrone means its first marquee game since a Week 2 trip to Roaring Spring to face Central. The Eagles will travel to Wingate to take on Bellefonte at Bald Eagle Area’s Alumni Stadium in a game with major Mountain League implications. Both squads are undefeated and 3-0 in conference play.
The Raiders normally play their home games at Rogers Stadium, but complications during a stadium renovation have forced the Raiders to play their home games away from Bellefonte until at least late October.
The Red Raiders have beaten Tyrone two straight seasons, something that hasn’t happened since the late 1980s and early 1990s. After defeating Bellefonte in 1994 in John Franco’s first season, Tyrone had won every year afterwards until a 14-13 upset at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field in 2016.
The Red Raiders, the defending District 6 4A champions, are 4-0 and have allowed only four touchdowns this season.
- When P-O went up on Tyrone 14-6 in the second quarter, it was the Mounties’ first lead over the Eagles since 2007, when Tyrone needed a late rally to win on a miracle gadget play at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field and extend a regular season winning streak to 30 games. That kind of history is not easy to overcome, and McGonigal knows it. He compared the game to a prize fight, and he recognized that Tyrone was wobbling in the second quarter. “(The players) just don’t have that killer instinct yet because they’ve never won,” said McGonigal. “We had them against the ropes, and we should have been able to take a big punch at them to maybe go up 21-6, and we just missed that opportunity.”
- You would be hard-pressed to find a better secondary in the Mountain League than the group playing at Tyrone. Along with Gripp’s interception, Hicks added another in the first quarter to set up Light’s touchdown. Hicks also batted down a pass on a blitz in the fourth quarter, and on Whitehead’s long pass to set up the go-ahead score Gripp had Thompson blanketed in coverage. Thompson simply made an incredibly athletic leaping catch. Tyrone now has six interceptions and 10 total takeaways.
- Light continued his solid play at quarterback, running for 58 yards on four carries in support of his passing effort. He continued to show a soft touch on the deep fade routes, and he made only one bad throw when he forced the ball to Gripp on a fly pattern in the third quarter and was intercepted by Hunter Weitoish at the 5-yard line. Light’s 129 passing yards left him 162 yards shy of becoming the third passer at Tyrone to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a career.
TYRONE 32, PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA 14
TYRONE 6 20 6 0 – 32
PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA 0 14 0 0 – 14
T – Light 22 run (PAT failed) 2:26
P – Thompson 3 pass from Slogosky (Weitoish kick) 11:31
P – Keith 19 pass from Whitehead (Weitoish kick) 9:29
T – Lehman 26 pass from Light (PAT failed)
T – Albright 10 run (Lucas run) 2:34
T – Gripp 48 interception return (PAT failed) 1:18
T – Albright 6 run (PAT failed) 5:22
First Downs 20 9
Yards Rushing 209 41
Yards Passing 186 125
Total Yards 396 166
Intercepted by 2 2
Fumbles/recovered 0-0 0-0
Penalties/yards 7-59 6-50
Punts/avg. 3-31.5 6-6-27.3
Tyrone – Albright 19-109; Light 6-52; Homan 1-20; Hicks 3-31; TEAM 2-(-4).
Philipsburg-Osceola – Whitehead 6-(-18); McDonald 16-48; Slogosky 6-12; Chapman 1-(-1).
Tyrone – Light 10-20-129, 1 TD, 1 Int.; Lucas 1-2-17, 0 TD, 1 Int.; Lehman 1-1-41.
Philipsburg-Osceola – Whitehead 5-9-100, 1 TD, 2 Int.; Slogosky 5-10-25, 1 TD, 0 Int.
Tyrone – Gripp 4-58; Lehman 4-35; Albright 2-19; Locke 2-45; Zimmerman 1-30.
Philipsburg-Osceola – Thompson 3-42; McDonald 1-7; Depto 2-34; Keith 1-19; Chapman 2-17; Whitehead 1-8.