Four seasons ago, when Tyrone was in the midst of a 9-2 run into the postseason fresh off a District 6 2A championship in 2014, games like the ones the Golden Eagles will have Friday at home against Hollidaysburg were the kind Coach Jason Wilson and his staff were eager to get on the schedule.
The Mountain League then was essentially a three-dog race every season, with the championship normally decided by the time Tyrone concluded its game with Clearfield in Week 7. One way or another, the conference came down to the Eagles, Central and the Bisons, and in 2014 they schools split the crown.
Outside of those three, the league wasn’t cutting it. The Centre County swing was a joke, with Bellefonte, Bald Eagle Area, Philipsburg-Osceola and Penns Valley claiming just one win over Tyrone over a span of more than 20 years. The non-conference schedule was okay – with the occasional heated tilt against Bellwood-Antis or Chestnut Ridge – but still a breeze.
So a game with the Golden Tigers, even if it resulted in a loss, could only do good for a program like Tyrone, which was expecting to contend for a District title and a run in inter-districts every season.
Things have changed since then, and while Tyrone has fallen on tough times, football in Centre County has exploded. The Golden Eagles are 1-2 against those squads this season, with Bellefonte and BEA enjoying a football renaissance.
In times like these it would be comforting to have non-conference tune up game against a team like Central Mountain, which was Tyrone’s Week 8 game before adding the Golden Tigers.
Instead, the Eagles will be facing a 5A school whose 3-4 record belies the talent on its roster, and the reasons for that are quite similar to Tyrone, which has lost three in a row after a 4-0 start – the Tigers have chosen to play top tier competition, and that has its benefits, as well as its consequences.
Playing an unaffiliated schedule after leaving the WPIAL in 2016, the Golden Tigers have been challenged every week. They could complain, but who would listen – the slate was designed by their head coach Homer DeLattre, who also happens to be the Hollidaysburg Athletic Director.
“Our goal is to have the best program in Pennsylvania,” said Coach Homer DeLattre. “To do that you have to challenge yourself with your schedule.”
After opening the season with wins over Altoona and Mifflin County, the Tigers lost four straight in September, falling to State College, Cedar Cliff, Fort Hill, Md., and McDowell, teams with a combined 20-6 record in Week 8.
If any game in that stretch gave a glimpse of how good Hollidaysburg is, it was the 19-7 loss to Fort Hill, which has won four of the last five Maryland state championships playing in 1A, the top classification in that state.
Outside of that loss, where the Golden Tigers allowed two touchdowns off of interceptions, nothing has slowed their offense, which is averaging just over 30 points per game.
“I think we’ve played extremely well for the competition we’ve played,” said DeLattre. “I would say we’re in a better position than we were last year at this time.”
When the Tigers faced Tyrone in Hollidaysburg last season, they were 3-3, and they won handily 38-7 despite being stonewalled on their first two drives. After going up 14-7 at halftime, Hollidaysburg scored 24 unanswered points in the second half.
Much of their line is back this season, including twin towers Josh and Nathan Howell, as well as quarterback Brady Walters, who ran for 154 yards and threw for 174, accounting for four touchdowns, against Tyrone last season.
“They’re really similar to last year,” said Wilson. “They’ve got a big line up front on both sides of the ball. The key is to get them out of the rhythm of their no-huddle offense.”
Few teams have been able to do that. Instead, those teams who have toppled Hollidaysburg have outscored them. The Tigers average more than 340 yards per game led by Walters, who has passed for more than 1,100 yards and run for 353.
Running backs Hunter Barr and Nate Fisher have combined for 800 yards on the ground, while four receivers have more than 10 receptions.
“Being able to run the ball helps,” said DeLattre. “We have two running backs that give us a nice combination, and Brady has done a good job with our passing game. We’ve been able to spread the ball among more skill players this year.”
Tyrone, on the other hand, has been decimated of late by teams just like the Tigers – squads with mobile quarterbacks who distribute the football evenly. Against Bellefonte, Bald Eagle Area, and Clearfield the Eagles allowed 994 yards and more than 30 points per game.
The defense has also allowed an inordinate number of big plays over the last three weeks, surrendering 17 plays of 20 yards or more. Conversely, Tyrone’s offense has generated only five such plays over that time, and it’s been a factor in its inability to produce points.
Tyrone has scored only three touchdowns in the last 12 quarters, and Wilson feels a lot of it is because his team has put itself behind the chains often.
“In the first half (against Clearfield), I thought we played well,” Wilson said. “The snap over our head (on the second series leading 7-6) killed us. We moved the ball well on our first series and got a couple first downs on our second series. It seems like there’s always a sack or a penalty that puts us in bad situations, and we haven’t been able to overcome it.”
Tyrone has moved the ball well in tight spaces. Senior Zac Albright is over 600 yards this season on the ground, and Cory Lehman (18 receptions for 270 yards) and Tommy Hicks (19 for 261) have been the most reliable receivers for Denver Light, who has thrown for 937 yards. But big plays down the field have been hard to come by in recent weeks.
Still, coming off three losses Tyrone still holds its destiny in its hands thanks to its fast start to the season. The Eagles are currently third in District 6 3A, 10 points ahead of Westmont Hilltop.
A win over Hollidaysburg would not only stop the bleeding from Tyrone’s skid, where the Eagles lost to three teams with unbeaten records, but it could set the course for its postseason.
“A win against a 5A school could put us in a position for a 2 or 3 seed in the playoffs,” said Wilson. “It would be a way to gain momentum and finish the season strong. We want to have the attitude of not walking into the playoffs. We’ve got to make strides and get better. Last week we took a step in the right direction after six quarters of going backwards from about the third quarter of the Bellefonte game on.”