The big-picture takeaway from Tyrone’s 28-13 loss to Hollidaysburg Friday at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field is simple: the Golden Eagles have dropped four straight games, spoiling a promising 4-0 start and putting them in a position where the pressure is on to win games or face the possibility of not qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 1994.
That’s a compelling storyline, but a highly focused view reveals much more. After scoring first against the Golden Tigers, the Eagles had held leads in the first half of three of their last four games. In two of those games Tyrone was either tied or leading at halftime.
In all of them they lost by at least two touchdowns after failing to keep up in the third and fourth quarters.
That’s why the answer is somewhat simple for Tyrone coach Jason Wilson: play four quarters, and avoid the big mistakes that for four weeks have been the difference between Tyrone vying for a top seed among District 6 3A schools and simply battling to get its name onto the bracket.
“I thought we came out sharp, and the whole game I thought our offense did a lot of good things. We’re just not putting the ball in the end zone,” said Wilson. “We talked about this last week. We put ourselves in situations where it’s a penalty, or (tonight) we had the sack with the intentional grounding that put us deep early on. We can move the ball and move the ball, and we keep putting ourselves in those situations. We’ve got to put it together.”
There were times against the Tigers, who evened their record at 4-4 after a second straight victory, when Tyrone had it together and working. Their first series was a 75-yard gem that used a little bit of toughness – 24 yards from running back Zac Albright – and a little bit of luck – a 29-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Hicks, who caught a ball that had deflected off Logan Reader – to establish a 7-0 lead three-and-a-half minutes into the game.
Defensively, the Golden Eagles forced three turnovers in the first half to thwart Hollidaysburg advances, and they kept star quarterback Brady Walters in check outside of a 24-yard touchdown pass to Austin Weakland that tied the game with 5:04 left in the first quarter.
But for every stellar defensive play or offensive burst, there was a costly error, for every yard forward, a yard in reverse.
There was the intentional grounding Wilson mentioned, which took Tyrone from its 34 and spotted the Eagles on their own 10. There was the first of Denver Light’s two interceptions, which came one play after he had recovered a fumble to end a Tiger advance. There was the snap over Light’s head resulting in a turnover, which came after Albright had picked off Walters and the Eagles had driven to the Tigers 32.
And that was only in the first half.
It’s tough to win against good teams getting second chances, and for the second straight week that was the dangerous game the Eagles were playing.
It’s no wonder Hollidaysburg coach Homer DeLattre felt the biggest second-half adjustment was the Tigers simply getting out of their own way.
“Unfortunately, in the first half we turned the ball over and stopped ourselves,” said DeLattre. “Offensively, we did the same thing at the start of the second half that we were doing in the first half. We were able to mix the running backs and the quarterback together, which kept them off balance.”
When Hollidaysburg finally managed to get itself right in the third quarter, Tyrone didn’t have an immediate answer, and they were down 28-7 after allowing touchdowns on three straight Tiger possessions.
The resurgence of Walters had a lot to do with it. He ran for 101 yards over the final two quarters and completed all five of his passes for 51 yards. He also scored two of Hollidaysburg’s second-half touchdowns, continuing his dominance of the Golden Eagles over the last two seasons.
After rushing for 107 yards and throwing for 126 on Friday, Walters had 562 yards in his two games as a starter against Tyrone.
His work was no surprise to Wilson.
“We didn’t need to see that on film. We knew that from last year,” said Wilson. “We knew what type of runner he was, and we knew what we were coming in to this game with him, too. We knew he was going to be pulling the ball and running the ball hard, and just like their running backs he’s a tough downhill runner.”
In all, Hollidaysburg amassed 233 of its 376 total yards in the second half, with 193 of those coming on the ground.
“We knew they had powerful downhill running backs,” said Wilson. “That was the difference between them this year as compared to last year. They pounded us down, and sometimes it felt like they had guys hanging onto them and they’re still getting another six yards. We’re not driving through the tackles. They had a lot of yards after contact.”
The Tigers’ second series of the second half exemplified that. After Walters gave Hollidaysburg its first lead with a 3-yard run, Hunter Barr helped push the Tigers to another score with a pair of runs where he was initially stopped for a loss before getting a big gain. On the second, he drove through a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on a swing pass and went for 18 yards, setting up Walters’ score from the 10 to make it 21-7.
Before the game got away, Tyrone made a run in the fourth quarter. Levi Blazer recovered a fumble on a punt – the Tigers’ fifth turnover – setting up a 30-yard scoring pass from Light to Hicks that made it 28-13.
The Eagles then recovered an on-sides kick and drove as far as the 19 with just under five minutes to play. But on first down Barr intercepted Light at the 5, ending the threat, and allowing Hollidaysburg to keep possession for the rest of the game.
“That was a good play by Hunter Barr,” said DeLattre. “We got to the quarterback a little in the second half. The combination of those things made him get the ball out a little early and off time. So the pressure early contributed to that.”
Tyrone now travels to Penns Valley – a team that has never beaten Tyrone in 17 tries dating back to 1999. But this season the Rams are 5-3 and scoring points by the boat load.
That’s why if there’s one positive for the Eagles after staggering through a four-game losing streak, it’s that their offense showed signs of productivity against the Tigers that it hadn’t for 12 quarters going back to halftime against Bellefonte in late September.
Against Hollidaysburg Tyrone totaled 260 yards – all while surrendering 48 yards in negative plays – and went three and out only twice. The Eagles had five plays of 18 yards or more and got their running game working better than it had in four weeks. Albright carried 18 times for 130 yards, and Light was steady, completing 10 of 20 passes for 142 yards.
The negative plays were killers, as were the three turnovers, and 88 yards in penalties.
“If you want to win high school football games, you’ve got to eliminate turnovers and penalties,” said Wilson.
NOTES: Light’s passing numbers brought him to 3,258 career passing yards, about 200 behind Leonard Wilson, who is No. 2 all-time at Tyrone … Tyrone’s five takeaways were a season-high.
HOLLIDAYSBURG 28, TYRONE 13
T – Hicks 29 pass from Light (Pearson kick) 8:29
H – Weakland 24 pass from Walters (Pinter kick) 5:04
H – Walters 3 run (Pinter kick) 8:17
H – Walters 10 run (Pinter kick) 3:22
H – Fisher 3 run (Pinter kick) 8:43
HOLLIDAYSBURG 7 0 14 7 – 28
TYRONE 7 0 0 6 – 13
First Downs 14 20
Yards Rushing 118 250
Pass Att./Comp. 10-20 9-13
Yards Passing 142 126
TOTAL OFFENSE 260 376
Fumbles/Rec. 1-1 4-3
Intercepted by 2 2
Punts/Avg. 5-27.4 1-33
Penalties/Yards 8-88 7-45
Tyrone – Albright – 18-130; Light 7-(-1); Homan 1-(-1); Lucas 1-4; Hicks 1-4; TEAM 1-(-18).
Hollidaysburg – McCready 2-13; Fisher 17-60; Barr 16-63; Walters 18-107; Weakland 1-5; TEAM 1-(-10).
Tyrone – Light 10-20-142, 2 TDs, 2 Ints.
Hollidaysburg – Walters 9-13-126, 1 TD, 2 Ints.
Tyrone – Hicks 3-67; Gripp 4-51; Reader 3-24.
Hollidaysburg – Weakland 3-50; Moss 2-18; Barr 2-33; Dellinger 1-15; Drass 1-10.