John Franco has been coaching football since the 1980s, and he hasn’t seen many running backs like Bellefonte’s CJ Funk.
One came to mind in the week leading up to the Tyrone’s game last night against the Red Raiders at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field, one Franco was quite familiar with.
That back is Jesse Jones, who from 1998 through 2000 ran for nearly 7,000 yards for Tyrone, leading the Golden Eagles to a PIAA title in 1999.
“I said that last week. He’s very similar. Very similar,” Franco said after watching Funk plow through his defense for 162 yards and four touchdowns on only 12 carries in Bellefonte’s 55-10 victory.
“That’s a heck of an offensive line, and that running back is as good as any I have seen in a long time,” Franco said.
While Funk’s numbers this season, on the heels of a 1,400-yard campaign as a junior, are incredible – he’s averaging 15 yards per carry – the truth is on a night like last night he was just one cog in a rushing machine whose parts seemed at times almost interchangeable.
The Raiders ran for 332 yards against Tyrone, averaging 8.5 yards a pop, and broke nine runs for 20 yards or more. Eleven backs got carries for Bellefonte, and seven of them had at least one carry for 15 yards or more.
That’s a heck of an offensive line, and that running back is as good as any I have seen in a long timeCoach John Franco
Against a weary defense that was forced to play mix-and-match again this week after suffering a series of injuries to starters since Week 2, it was a train wreck waiting to happen. Tyrone started a completely new linebacking corps after Noah Zimmerman and Corey Beck were lost to injuries a week ago, shifting defenders from one position to another in a week’s time, and the inexperience showed.
Funk had 117 yards on the ground by the end of the Raiders’ second series, keeping he game from ever being close.
“Our offense becomes more about who’s getting the ball as opposed to exactly who’s getting the ball, meaning by position,” said Bellefonte coach Shannon Manning, whose team improved to 4-1 and remained undefeated in Mountain League play at 3-0. “The way the offense is geared, it goes through certain positions, and when we put the kids in, if they know what they’re doing, they’re able to execute and we’ll still pick up yardage.”
The Raiders got yardage in huge chunks on their first possession thanks to Funk, after they ended a promising Tyrone drive that reached as far as Bellefonte’s 26. Funk went for 26 yards on his first carry to get the ball on the plus side of the 50, Ethan Rossman converted on fourth-and-11 with a 15-yard pass to Nicholas Capparelle, and Funk punctuated the march with a 20-yard touchdown run. The first of seven PAT kicks by Nick Persiko made it 7-0.
Runs of 24 and 16 yards by Funk on Bellefonte’s next drive got the Raiders to the 15 before he zipped in from the 10 for a 14-0 advantage.
Funk then returned a punt 64 yards in the second quarter to get the ball to the 12, setting up a 1-yard touchdown pass from Rossman to Isiah Nadolsky.
“It came down to we couldn’t stop their running game,” said Franco, whose team fell to 2-3 overall and 2-2 in the Mountain League. “And that opens up all their passes because we’ve got eight and nine guys committed to the run, and we still couldn’t stop them.”
Tyrone had a chance to get on the board late in the second quarter, using a 43-yard pass play from Brandon Lucas to Damon Gripp to get to the Bellefonte 1. However, given five cracks, aided by a pass interference penalty on fourth down, Tyrone couldn’t get in the end zone, with two plays stopped for negative gains. Lucas was ultimately stonewalled for a 1-yard gain from the 2 on fourth down.
“That definitely would have changed the complexion of the game, and it was good for us to be in that situation,” said Manning. “It was huge for us to step up, and we felt like it was big at that time.”
The stop actually led to Tyrone’s first points when Matt Clifton and Dean Grassi combined to sack Rossman in the end zone on second down for a safety that made it 21-2 at halftime.
“The thing that upset me most was we didn’t score from the 1, and we just kept getting blown back,” said Franco. “That’s unacceptable for our team. We have to improve in that area, and we have a lot of areas to improve, there’s no doubt.”
Funk scored on a 37-yard run to start the third quarter, ending a drive that was set in motion by a 23-yard pass from Rossman to Mason Grey. That made it 27-2, but Tyrone responded with it’s only touchdown of the night when Lucas threw to Gripp for a 76-yard score. Keegan Raabe’s kick made it 27-10.
However, any hopes of a Tyrone comeback were quickly dashed as the Raiders went back to the ground on the ensuing drive. They used seven straight running plays, including a 44-yard burst from Jalen Emel to the Tyrone 27, to take a 34-10 lead on a 3-yard run from Funk out of wildcat formation.
Bellefonte would add three more scores in the fourth, each the result of a long run. Jacob Hummel hit first with a 53-yard dash, followed by a 49-yard run from Logan Houser. Ashton Kozel closed out the scoring with a 7-yard run that was set up after Hummel broke lose for 39 yards.
Bellefonte’s defense held Tyrone to a season-low 36 rushing yards on 25 attempts, and forced punts on six of the Eagles’ 11 possessions.
Tyrone’s will look to take two out of three on its current home stand next week when it hosts Bald Eagle Area on Homecoming.
But before his team can think about avenging last season’s loss to the defending District 6 3A champs, Franco said his team needs to focus on getting healthy.
“We have to heal,” said Franco. “We’re so battered up right now. We’re trying to find people to play positions without putting sophomores into areas that’s going to get them hurt. We’ve got to get that taken care of first. We’ve got to get our bodies healed up and get people back into their normal position.”
Bellefonte, meanwhile, will host Clearfield in a showdown that could determine the Mountain League champion.