Takeaways from Tyrone’s 35-7 loss to Clearfield on Friday at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field:
Two things have been consistent since the Clearfield Bisons joined the Mountain League in 2012: the Bisons have always had an elite quarterback, and they have always beaten Tyrone.
Including Friday’s 35-7 victory over the Tyrone, Clearfield is 7-0 against the Golden Eagles since joining the conference seven seasons ago. Quarterbacks like Christian Lezzer, Erik Sellers, Cody Spaid and Isaac Rumery have had their way with Tyrone, so it’s somewhat ironic that a school that has produced some of the top passers in Central Pennsylvania has done most of its damage against Tyrone running the football.
In the most recent matchup the Bisons ran for 200 yards to Tyrone’s 27, but the imbalance is actually nothing unusual. Whether it was John Franco, Steve Guthoff or Jason Wilson on the sidelines for the Golden Eagles, Clearfield’s rushing attack, much more than its passing, has been the difference.
In their seven most recent meetings, Clearfield has outgained Tyrone by an average of 218-93 on the ground.
That’s impressive, not only for the consistency with which the Bisons find ways to grind out yards against the Golden Eagles, but because it has happened with some of the best backs in Tyrone history running the football. In 2012 and 2013 James Oliver was Tyrone’s feature back, a runner who eclipsed 4,000 total yards in his career and ran for more than 1,800 yards in 2012. In 2014, Tyrone was led by 1,900-yard rusher Aleic Hunter; in 2015 it was 1,500-yard back Gary Weaver.
In every case, the Bisons found a way to smother Tyrone’s rushing attack while kicking its own into another gear.
Even during the Golden Eagles’ most recent win over Clearfield, a 24-13 victory in 2009, the Bisons won the rushing battle 173-154.
So while Clearfield’s lopsided edge Friday in the rushing game didn’t help matters for Tyrone, it was far from an anomaly.
Quarterback Denver Light may never be as decorated as some of his predecessors at Tyrone – he may never win a District championship or lead a team in to the PIAA playoffs – but it’s hard to argue that he has produced over two-and-a-half seasons as a starter.
By completing 12 of 22 passes for 142 yards against Clearfield, Light became only the third passer in school history to eclipse 3,000 yards for his career.
He now has 3,116 passing yards, and with three games left it’s hard to think he won’t surpass Leonard Wilson to move into second place all-time at Tyrone. Wilson threw for 3,482 yards from 2004-2006 and was the school’s all-time passing leader before Stevie Franco came along from 2009-2011, throwing for more than 6,000 yards.
What’s more impressive is the limited number of games Light has played when compared to Tyrone’s other top passers. He missed two games as a sophomore as a result of a sprained ankle, and then last season he was moved to receiver after Week 6. So in 22 games he is averaging 141.6 passing yards. That’s higher than Tyler Mertiff’s 138 yards per game from 2001-2002, and just below Franco’s 148.
Jason Wilson figured out long ago that a solid strategy for high school defense is to keep plays in front.
In other words, avoid long plays – deep passes, breakaway runs – and force an opponent to drive the field and accumulate plays because sooner or later 17- and 18-year old players are going to break down. There will be mistakes. And as long as a defense can avoid giving up big plays, the odds are in its favor.
But it hasn’t worked for Tyrone that way over its three-game losing streak. In games against Bellefonte, Bald Eagle Are and Clearfield, the Golden Eagles have allowed 17 plays of 20 yards or more, plays that not only led to long scores but also drive-extending conversions.
Conversely, Tyrone has produced only five plays of at least 20 yards in that same time.
Against Clearfield, the Golden Eagles defense surrendered seven plays longer than 20 yards, and the results were predictable. Not only did Tyrone allow at least 30 points for the third straight week, but the Bisons were also able to convert 9 of 12 third downs.
The next few weeks have become crucial for the Golden Eagles.
More than anything they’ve got to find a way to stop the bleeding of a three-game losing streak, but in the big picture they’re facing the possibility of a third straight losing season, something that hasn’t happened in more than a generation.
The last time the Golden Eagles posted three straight losing seasons was from 1989 through 1992, four of the worst seasons in the history of the program.
It’s hard to think Tyrone’s current teams would rank among that group – the players now are better than those of the early 1990s and so is the coaching. Then, Tyrone went through four different coaches in a span of four seasons, while now there is stability and a program in place.
But wins and losses are what they are, and while the Eagles just went through one of the tougher three game stretches a team will face – playing three straight unbeaten squads – the next three weeks will be just as difficult and critical not only to avoid finishing .500 but to jockey for a favorable playoff position.
It starts next week with 3-4 Hollidaysburg – a team that has manhandled Tyrone in its previous meetings in 2016 and 2017 – and continues with Penns Valley, one more Centre County team in the midst of one of its best seasons.
The Rams dominated Central and sprung an upset over Bellefonte on Friday.
The season ends in Huntingdon, which fell to 2-5 last week with a loss to Bald Eagle Area.