The Tyrone football team lost its sixth straight game on Friday, falling to Huntingdon 38-12 at home. The loss excluded the Golden Eagles from the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Here are the takeaways from the game.
You’ve got to start with the obvious. Special teams were the deciding factor in the game. The ‘Cats were able to work with short fields on all of their scoring drives thanks mostly to their superior play on special teams, which is how they also scored the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter.
Until Week 10, Tyrone’s performance on punt and kick teams had been adequate. The Eagles had allowed two long punt returns against Bald Eagle Area. A 60-yard punt return by Hollidaysburg never led to a score, while a 39-yard return by Clearfield led to the Bisons first score.
Aric Reader had five punts to the 20 and deeper through the first four weeks, and considering he averaged about 32 yards per punt, the coverage was solid.
Taken together with Tommy Hicks’ strong performance as a punt and kickoff returner, the special teams had been an area of strength if not a push.
But it all fell apart against Huntingdon. Jacob Wagner’s 48-yard punt return in the second quarter put the ‘Cats ahead 12-6 and Tyrone never led again. Reader later had a punt blocked, which led to a score to make it 19-6 at halftime, and Wagner’s 35-yard punt return in the third set up a score to make it 25-6.
Reader later shanked a 17-yard kick in the fourth quarter after the Eagles were backed to their end zone.
Four special teams breakdowns leading to four touchdowns. With the Golden Eagles struggling to score touchdowns over the final six games, the last thing they needed was to offer up short fields, but that’s what happened against the ‘Cats, and it may be the biggest reason Tyrone’s season ended early.
As damaging as the Golden Eagles’ special teams breakdowns were, a close second was the frequency with which they hurt their own cause with penalties.
In a game that meant playing another week or heading home, Tyrone took 12 penalties for 109 yards, both of which were season highs.
It added to a total that had been growing at an alarming rate by Week 10.
In all, the Eagles were penalized 72 times for 631 yards, which is the most a Tyrone team had been penalized since 2013, when the Eagles were flagged 63 times for 558 yards under Coach Steve Guthoff.
Against the ‘Cats, Tyrone took four personal foul penalties and one unsportsmanlike conduct.
The series with Huntingdon is long, and the games are intense, and while the 15-yarders didn’t in themselves lead to added points, they didn’t help either.
Zac Albright probably deserved better. The senior running back entered the game needing 173 yards to reach 1,000, and from the start he looked like a player on a mission. His first two carries went for 15 yards each, and late in the first quarter he reversed field on an 86-yard score that showed how deceptive his speed and quickness to the edge really are.
What Albright needed was either more carries – which wasn’t in the cards with Tyrone trailing by two or more touchdowns the entire second half – or more games, which was impossible after the ‘Cats bounced Tyrone from playoff contention.
In the end, Albright finished the season with 954 yards and eight touchdowns after running for 137 yards on 21 carries. He had four games over 100 yards and three others over 90, but it was the third straight season Tyrone’s offense failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher after having one each season from 2003 through 2015.
After drawing first blood against the Bearcats, Tyrone had scored first against eight of the teams on its schedule.
In those games the Golden Eagles were 3-5. They scored first in each of their final four games and lost each one.
After averaging almost 32 points per game during its 4-0 start, Tyrone finished the season averaging 8.8 in its final six.
Even when the offense showed signs of life, it all too often found itself facing adversity it could not overcome. After scoring first against Hollidaysburg in Week 8, a bad snap from center lost 15 yards and turned the ball over, leading to a score. Against Penns Valley it was turnovers int the red zone.
Against the ‘Cats Tyrone pinned itself deep several times with negative plays and turned the ball over three times.
It all added up to an offense that was always almost there, but never quite able to make it over the hump.