If the second half of its game against Clearfield is an indication of where the Tyrone football team stands in Week 7, the Golden Eagles may be closer to where Coach John Franco thinks it can be than he was before Friday night.
On the surface it wasn’t much different than the previous two weeks, which ended in losses to Bellfonte and Bald Eagle Area.
But in the game within the game, the Golden Eagles showed life they hadn’t shown since September, and they did it against a team competing for a Mountain League championship.
When seen from that lens, Tyrone’s 28-14 loss, although it did nothing to improve its playoff hopes or add one more check to the win column, was perhaps more important than the two wins the Golden eagles have this win over Bishop Carroll and Philipsburg-Osceola.
While those games allowed the Eagles to get a payday from a week’s worth of practice, they weren’t games where Tyrone put its best foot forward for 48 minutes.
That wasn’t the case in the second half against the Bisons.
“They didn’t give up. They played until the end, and we’re taking small steps,” said Franco, whose team fell to 2-5 overall and 2-4 in the league. “But they were positive steps tonight in the second half. Our problem was we played pretty poorly in the first half, at least at the end of the second quarter.”
Over the second and third quarters, Tyrone generated 186 of its 276 total yards, scored its first touchdown since the third quarter of Week 5, and forced a punt for the first time since Week 4.
Those are baby steps for sure, but when you’re working from the position Franco and the Eagles are working from, they’re the building blocks of turning a program that has endured three straight losing seasons around.
“We’ve got such a long way to go,” said Franco. “We’ve had to tear things down and build all over again. We’re trying to build a foundation, and that foundation is based on discipline and conditioning and accountability. I know they sound like clichés, but on a football team that’s what you have to do first. Until we get that established, it doesn’t matter. We’re not going to do well. The second half was a positive step. We’re going to get it done. Tyrone has too many good kids to not get it done.”
The issue for the Golden Eagles against the Bisons was how far it fell behind in the first half and into the third quarter, and while their performance wasn’t up to par during that time frame, Clearfield’s play, especially in its running game, had a lot to do with that.
Of the Bisons’ 335 yards of total offense, 253 of them came on the ground, led by Brett Zattoni’s 131 yards on 23 carries.
But Zattoni was just one of a stable of Bisons rushers to put up big numbers. Quarterback Oliver Billotte, who also threw for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns, carried 7 times for 58 yards, while Jason Plubell had 47 yards on 7 carries.
Clearfield rushers combined for 11 plays of 10 yards or more.
Tyrone trailed 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, but its offense had shown some life on its only possession of the game. The defense was another story. Clearfield had gone 81-yards on 11 plays for its first touchdown – a six-yard pass from Billotte to Matt Pallo – and on that drive the Bisons had broken free for three plays of 16 yards or more.
Their running game was a particular concern, with Zattoni gaining 54 yards on their opening series.
It was an issue that went unresolved the rest of the half. Jason Plubell ran for a 15-yard gain on Clearfield’s first possession of the second quarter, Billotte got free on a 10-yard run, and Zattoni went for 16 to get the ball to the 2. Two plays later Zattoni went unscathed into the end zone, and the second of Ian Billotte’s four PAT kicks made it 14-0 with 8:12 left in the half.
The Bisons then ended the half with a 75-yard drive capped by a 12-yard pass from Oliver Billotte to Hayden Kovalick with 42.3 seconds left to establish a three-touchdown lead by halftime.
“Our offensive line had a good night,” said Clearfield coach Tim Janocko, whose team improved to 6-1 overall and remained in the hunt for a Mountain League championship at 4-1. “Oliver managed the game well. We had some big drives. Zattoni ran hard. Plubell had some runs. Matt Pallos stepped up and had some catches. Overall, everyone stepped up and pitched in and made some plays.”
Both of the Bisons’ second quarter scoring drives came on the heels of sacks that ended Tyrone advances, which was one reason Franco singled out the Eagles’ offensive line as a major factor in the team’s first-half woes.
“The first quarter-and-a-half we stayed right there, but we needed to get a better effort from our O-line,” said Franco. “Everything is centered around the offensive line. The first half, our offensive line did not play very well. The second half they picked it up and played better, and that is why we played better.”
After Clearfield scored on a 6-yard run by Zattoni to make it 28-0 on its first possession of the second half, Tyrone’s defense bared down and forced a punt on the Bisons’ last series of the third quarter. A short kick gave the Golden Eagles the ball at the 35, setting up a 27-yard completion down the sideline from Lucas to Broc Zimmerman. Three plays later Lucas found Damon Gripp in the front corner of the end zone for a score to make it 28-7 after Keegan Raabe’s PAT kick.
Clearfield went three-and-out to start the fourth quarter, and Tyrone cut the score in half when Lucas found Gripp again for a 23-yard touchdown with 7:04 left.
However, the Bisons’ running attack helped Clearfield keep the ball for the next four-a-half minutes, making a Tyrone comeback unlikely. The Eagles moved the ball from their own 11 to Clearfield’s 33 before time expired.
“The effort I liked, the result I didn’t” said Franco. “We’re not satisfied with the result. We need to play with that kind of effort (from the second half), which is what we’ve been trying to get done all year. We finally got an effort in the second half, and that’s at least something to build on.”
Lucas completed 15 of 23 passes for 152 yards, with Gripp catching 6 of his tosses for 68 yards. He also became Tyrone’s first 100-yard rusher in nearly a year, gaining 105 yards on 19 carries despite being sacked four times and giving up 30 yards in losses.
Score by Quarters
TYRONE 0 0 7 7 – 14
CLEARFIELD 7 14 7 0 – 28
C – Pallo 6 pass from O. Billotte (I. Billotte kick) 3:09
C – Zattoni 5 run (I. Billotte kick) 8:12
C – Kovalik 12 pass from O. Billotte) (I. Billotte kick) :42.3
C – Zattoni 6 run (I. BIllotte kick) 7:10
T – Gripp 8 pass from Lucas (Raabe kick) :1.9
T – Gripp 23 pass from Lucas (Raabe kick) 7:04
First Downs 15 20
Att-Yards Rushing 26-124 42-253
Pass Att.-Comp.-Int 15-23-0 8-13-0
Passing Yards 152 82
Total Plays-Yards 49-276 55-335
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 6-60 5-55
Punts-Average 4-31.2 2-22.5
Tyrone — Lucas 19-105; Beck 1-(-1); Clifton 2-0; Homan 2-20; Zimmerman 1-2; Team 1-(-2).
Clearfield – Zattoni 23-131; Plubell 7-47; Kline 1-5; O. Billotte 7-58; I. Billotte 2-13; Hess 1-(-5); Firanski 1-4.
Tyrone — Lucas 15-23-152, 2 TDs, 0 Int.
Clearfield – O. Billotte 8-13-83, 2 TDs, 0 Int.
Tyrone – Gripp 6-68; B. Zimmerman 2-50; Grassi 2-2; Clifton 2-3; Rhoades 1-7; Homan 1-14; N. Zimmerman 1-8.
Clearfield – Lezzer 1-23; Pallo 5-41; Zattoni 1-6; Kovalick 1-12.