Tyrone looks to turn things around against Penns Valley

It’s been said that desperate times call for desperate measures, but even though Tyrone’s football team is 2-4 heading into its Week 7 game against Penns Valley it would be hard to call the Golden Eagles’ situation a desperate one.

Tyrone is all but guaranteed one of the top four spots in District 6 3A, and while the Eagles have only two wins this season they’re sitting at No. 3 in the standings, just ahead of Westmont Hilltop.

Nor could one fairly say the move Coach John Franco is about to make this week one done in desperation. Outside of the box? Yes. Desperate? Not really.

Franco said on Wednesday the Eagles would begin employing a two-quarterback system this week when the 3-3 Rams visit Gray-Veterans Memorial Field, placing freshman Ashton Walk, who has seen duty this season mostly near the end of games that have already been decided, in a more prominent role. He will share time with senior Keegan Gwinn, who has started every game this season as the Golden Eagles’ signal caller.

It’s a move Franco deemed necessary because Tyrone’s defense finally seemed to find its footing last week in a narrow loss to Bald Eagle Area. The Eagles forced two turnovers, sacked quarterback Carson Nagle six times, blocked a punt, and held the Bald Eagles almost 300 yards below their per game average. The offense, however, failed to produce, generating just 22 yards rushing on 22 attempts and amassing just 90 yards in total offense.

Two of BEA’s touchdowns came off interceptions, with one going back 73 yards for a score in the first quarter after Tyrone had jumped to a 7-0 lead.

Coach John Franco hopes the two-quarterback system will rejuvenate the offense by playing to each passer’s strengths.

“Ashton, even though he’s in ninth grade, has got a lot to offer,” said Franco. “Keegan has been struggling with an ankle injury, and that has hurt him a little bit, but we also think there are things that Keegan does pretty will we can use.”

When Gwinn has played well, it’s been through his ability to make quick reads and locate open receivers in a hurry. He led a long scoring drive in the first half against Clearfield three weeks ago doing just that, mirroring the strong first half he had against Bellefonte the week before. On the season, Gwinn has completed 43 of 99 passes for 445 yards and four touchdowns while also throwing six interceptions, one of which went for a game-tying score last week.

Walk, who has played mostly at the end of blowouts, has completed 13 of 27 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, but it’s his ability to use his legs to avoid the rush while keeping his eyes downfield that could do wonders for the Eagles’ offense. He’s extremely mobile, and if the pressure of varsity game action has affected him, he hasn’t shown it yet.

It’s a bold move for Franco, who last used two quarterbacks at Tyrone in 2003, when Tyrone began the season with Brandon Maceno and Leonard Wilson sharing time. That lasted only two weeks before Wilson emerged as the every-down play caller.

“When you look at all the levels of football, from high school to college to the NFL, you’re seeing more teams use a two-quarterback system,” Franco said. “They seem to find their strengths and hide their weaknesses. Every other position rotates players. The old adage has been you can’t do that with your quarterback, but I think teams are proving that you can do that. We think that’s in our best interest.”

In the end, however, it all circles back to Tyrone’s offensive line, which returned just one starter this season. Deficiencies there have been hard to mask, as evidenced by the 253 yards the Eagles have produced on the ground in five games played on the field (one of Tyrone’s victories came by way of forfeit after Huntingdon couldn’t field a team in Week 5 because of COVID quarantines).

This week, though, Tyrone was able to make some real progress, Franco said, because for the firs time in weeks the team wasn’t affected by quarantines that have kept players from practice and out of the starting lineup on many occasions.

Defensively, Tyrone looked very comfortable schematically against the talented Bald Eagles last week, and few players showed that more than Ross Gampe, Zac LeGars, and Josh Patterson. The trio combined to get to the quarterback six times, with Gampe sacking Nagle in the third for a safety and LeGars getting the blocked punt early in the game. Those three lived in BEA’s backfield when the team opted to pass.

When BEA finally decided to line up and run straight ahead, it was a different story. Over the Bald Eagles’ final two series, Garrett Burns carried 18 times for 101 yards and the go-ahead score, becoming the sixth back this season to go over 100 against Tyrone.

The unit will be facing an offense that has been good in its own lane. In games against Richland, Clearfield, and BEA – three of the top teams in their respective classifications – the Rams are 0-3, and in two of those games they surrendered more than 50 points. In the games it has won, Penns Valley has averaged over 38 points per game.

The Rams are averaging just over 216 yards per game with a strong balance of pass and run. While Rylee Brungart is the team leader in passing with more than 350 yards, he was injured early last week in a 41-14 win over Bellefonte and replaced by Jackson Romig, who went 15-for-18 for 167 yards and three touchdowns.

Ty Watson leads the Rams’ ground attack with 278 yards on 43 carries. His best game came in Week 4 in a 35-20 win over Philipsburg-Osceola when he ran for 109 yards on 9 carries.

One area where the Eagles will have to be sharp is on special teams, where Valley has two players – Miles Brooks and Hunter Lyons – averaging better than 17 yards per kick return.

While the game will probably not change Tyrone’s prospects of making it into the playoffs, it could certainly go a long way in determining the Eagles’ odds of making a return appearance in the finals, where they fell to Central last season 17-14. Tyrone currently leads No. 4 Westmont by 1.67 points, and the 4-seed will be facing the currently undefeated Scarlet Dragons, who have been an absolute machine this season and are averaging 46 points per game.

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