Tyrone hopes to stay on a roll

October 24, 2020.

That was 356 days ago, and the date is significant because it’s the last time the Tyrone football team pieced together wins in consecutive weeks. They did it with a tougher-than-expected 35-27 win over Philipsburg-Osceola at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field on Senior Night.

Those same Mounties just happen to be the Eagles’ opponent this week, as Tyrone looks to stay on the positive roll that began two weeks ago in a near-upset of Bald Eagle Area and continued last Friday with a 28-18, come-from-behind victory over Penns Valley.

Should the Eagles stay hot and find a way to get it done on the road at Philipsburg-Osceola Area Stadium, they would even their record at 4-4. After getting out of the gate with an 0-2 start before falling to 1-3 in Week 4 with a 42-12 loss to Clearfield, a .500 record wasn’t something that always seemed like a possibility.

“What we’ve been talking about all year is it was going to take us a while to get going, and we were going to have some things rough because of our inexperience, but we just had to keep playing through that,” said Tyrone coach John Franco. “We’ve got to keep taking the next step, and the next step is Philipsburg, and last year they gave us everything we could handle.”

The game is also an opportunity for Tyrone to finish its Mountain League slate on the plus side of the ledger. The Eagles enter the game at 3-2 in conference play.

For those fans who basked in the glow of Franco’s first run as Tyrone’s head coach from 1994 though 2011, 50-50 splits and winning records in conference may not have the same luster as District 6 titles and runs in the PIAA playoffs, but the fact is last season’s 5-0 run through the Mountain League was unique of late. From 2017 through 2019 Tyrone was a sub-.500 team, overall and in the league, so from that perspective a 4-2 mark against its most familiar opponents would be refreshing, especially considering that both Clearfield and Bald Eagle Area are ranked in the top 10 in their classifications by the Pennsylvania Football News.

P-O’s lone wins this season were dogfights – 7-6 over Huntingdon and 21-14 over Moshannon Valley – but despite the Mounties’ 2-5 record, despite the fact that they’ve been outscored 98-0 over the last two weeks, Franco isn’t taking the game as a given.

“They’re Philipsburg, and they’re always going to be a challenge,” Franco said. “It’s always going to be a tough game, and if you don’t play your best game you’re not going to beat them. They always play tough defense. That has always been a Philipsburg trademark.”

It’s a defense that will be facing a new starter for Tyrone, as freshman Ashton Walk takes over for Keegan Gwinn, who has started every other game for the Golden Eagles this season.

Freshman Ashton Walk will make his first start at quarterback for Tyrone against P-O. (Terry McCaulley photo)

Though Gwinn completed 9 of 12 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown last week against Valley, he also threw his second pick-6 in as many games, one that put the Rams ahead 18-6 in the second quarter. Walk, who was scheduled to split time at quarterback, took the remainder of the snaps, completing 12 of 22 passes for 180 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead the comeback.

With the passing game clicking and the ball being distributed to six different receivers – Cortlynd Rhoades, Ross Gampe, and Corrie Beck each had more than 50 yards in receptions – the running game opened up, allowing Brady Ronan to rumble for 89 yards and a touchdown. The result was Tyrone’s best offensive game of the season – 377 yards and four touchdowns.

Franco committed to the change this week when he said Walk will make his first varsity start against the Mounties.

That was never part of the initial plan, nor does it preclude Gwinn from playing a role in the offense, Franco said.

“Keegan has been a true team player. He was good with whatever was good for the team,” said Franco. “He’s playing tight end again, which he did a great job of last year, and he’s playing some outside linebacker. He’s going to be a big part of the team.

“Ashton is developing, but, again, he’s a ninth grader. I didn’t want to throw him into this role. That was never my intention, but he’s also played a lot better at this point than I thought, and we were in need of a shakeup.”

Until last week, the Golden Eagles offense had produced more than two touchdowns in a game only once, in a 21-0 win over Bellefonte in Week 3, and their highest offensive output was 226 yards. However, the defense had been improving. Against BEA, Tyrone held the Bald Eagles almost 300 yards below their per-game average and recorded six sacks. Bald Eagles two scores came off interceptions, one a 73-yard return by Gavin Eckley.

That improvement made some adjustments on the offensive side of the ball imperative as the postseason approached. But the Eagles won’t be focusing on playoff games against the Mounties. Instead, all eyes will be on P-O’s wing-T offense, which gave Tyrone fits last season. In the loss, P-O actually outgained the Eagles 333-303, with Kaleb Stamm running for 150 yards.

The Mounties have put a fairly balanced offense on the field this season, as well. Quarterback Ben Gutskey has completed 26 of 72 passes for 420 yards and 6 touchdowns. He has also thrown 9 interceptions.

Matt Martin leads a ground attack that has produced 898 yards with 355 yards on 65 carries, and he is one of three back’s in P-O’s system who has more than 200 yards rushing.

While Tyrone’s defense has made huge strides over the last two weeks in defending the run, it’s still a team that has allowed more than 200 rushing yards a game each time out. It’s also a team that has shown it can get into the opponent’s backfield and create some havoc, with 32 tackles for loss led by Gampe (9.5) and Josh Patterson (8).

The defensive unit’s growth has led the team, but now it’s time for the entire group to take a step forward in unison, Franco said.

“This is such an important game for us because it’s the next step,” he said. “We’ve got to learn each week. We’ve got to play at a higher level. And that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing this week, if we can take that next step.”

Tyrone is currently ranked third in District 6 3A, just a few points ahead of Westmont Hilltop. Undefeated Central is No. 1.

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