Though it seemed Tyrone was on the precipice of a remarkable comeback victory when it pulled within a field goal following a touchdown in the third quarter of last night’s District 6 3A semifinal against Penn Cambria, it was all a mirage.
That’s because the Panthers knew they had one more strategic move left to finally shake off the pesky Eagles, who had worked their way into a home playoff game at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field with a 3-1 finish down the stretch.
Like every other team this season that found itself in a do-or-die moment against Tyrone, the Panthers went to the ground, and there wasn’t much the Golden Eagles could do to stop it.
Unshaken by Tyrone’s durability under fire, Penn Cambria ran the ball on 20 of its final 22 plays, scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a 45-21 victory that sent the Panthers to the District finals for the first time since 2000.
It was a statement win for Penn Cambria, which came into the game on a four-game losing streak after starting the season 4-0.
“I told our kids before the game, we’ve battled through a lot of adversity this season,” said Penn Cambria coach Nick Felus, who took over at his alma mater in 2019. “They’re a resilient group. We never hit the panic button. We just kept doing what we’re doing. We call it the mountain mentality.”
For the Eagles, it was a scenario that had become all too familiar. With the game in the balance, they were unable to stop the Panthers when they decided to simply line up and run right at them. The situation played out in similar fashion this season against teams like Clearfield and Bald Eagle Area, but until last night the stakes had never been as high.
After falling behind 18-0 with an abysmal first quarter that saw them turn the ball over on the opening kickoff, the Eagle came back to pull within 24-21 with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Ashton Walk to Ross Gampe with 6:30 left in the third quarter. Until then, the Panthers had mixed the pass and run to perfection, but although Garrett Harrold had thrown only two incompletions to that point, his services as a passer were no longer needed.
Instead, Penn Cambria needed Harrold to be a runner – not a bad option for a quarterback who had already gained 1,000 yards on the ground this season. He and classmate Zach Grove took turns running into the heart of Tyrone’s defense, and it was hard to argue with the results.
“In the second half, our offensive line, hats off to them,” said Felus. “They really took over the game, and we were able to run the ball. When you can run the ball in the playoffs and stop the run, you’re going to be successful.”
Of the Panthers’ 406 yards of total offense, 241 came on the ground. Of those 241, 161 came in the third and fourth quarters.
Grove led Penn Cambria with 136 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries. Meanwhile, Harrold added another 87 yards and a touchdown on 17 totes. He also completed 17 of 19 passes for 165 yards and another score.
“He is a great quarterback,” Tyrone coach John Franco said. “He’s a great runner and passer. Last week, we had a great passer, but that’s all he did. But this kid can do it all. He’s a sensational athlete, and he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
That Tyrone was able to be within a whisper of tying or taking the lead was remarkable in itself considering the way in which Penn Cambria controlled the flow of the game. The Panthers ran 64 offensive plays to the Golden Eagles’ 39 and scored six of their 10 possessions. One possession ended the first half while another ended the game.
“They were a very big, very strong team. We stayed with them and came back. In the fourth quarter we just couldn’t stop the running game,” said Franco, whose team ended its season 5-6. “I thought our kids battled. It would have been easy to give up after that terrible first quarter, but we stayed with them.”
The Eagles were down 12-0 by the end of the first 12 minutes after the Panthers opened the scoring by capitalizing on a Tyrone miscue. The Eagles fumbled the opening kickoff to give Penn Cambria possession at the 35 and on his first throw of the night Harrold connected with Luke Shaugis for a 25-yard gain to the 10. Two plays later Grove ran it in from the 4 to make it 6-0.
Harrold then went 6-for-6 on the Panthers’ following series, a drive in which he showed his versatility with his legs and his arm. After converting one third-and-long with a 14-yard run, Harrold delivered a laser to Shaugis in the endzone on fourth-and-goal from the 14 for a score that gave Penn Cambria a two-touchdown lead. Harrold was pressured out of the pocket and nearly sacked by Ross Gampe before firing his strike to Shaugis, who fully extended to make a leaping grab and come down in bounds.
It was 18-0 five minutes into the second quarter after Grove scored again, this time from 16 yards out to complete a 62-yard drive. But on the conversion attempt the Panthers were flagged for a personal foul, and the 15-yard penalty on the kickoff gave Tyrone its best field position of the night.
Walk completed two passes to Corrie Beck – one for 17 yards and another for 36 – to get the ball to the 5 before lofting a fade to Gampe for a touchdown that made it 18-7 after the first of three PATs from Keegan Gwinn.
Gampe later sacked Harrold for an 11-yard loss that had the Panthers punting from inside their own 10, and Braden Ewing broke through to block the kick and give Tyrone possession at the 4. Walk passed to Beck out of the backfield on the ensuing play to make it 18-14 at halftime.
“It’s playoff football and Tyrone’s a great football team,” said Felus. “They had a good stretch of wins and beat some good football teams. It’s playoff football in Western Pennsylvania. They’re not going to pack it in. They’re going to come back firing on all cylinders, and they did. At halftime, my staff did an excellent job of telling our kids not to panic, just to stay the course.”
The Panthers pieced together a 70-yard drive out of the locker room to get the lead back to double digits. The big play of the series came on second-and-8 from Tyrone’s 42 when Kolten Miller zeroed in on a ball that was underthrown by Harrold. Though Miller tipped the pass, it came down in the hands of Shaugis, who was lying on his back, for a 23-yard gain. On the next play Grove ran it in from the 17 to make it 24-14.
Tyrone stormed back to make it 24-21 with a four-play drive that featured a lot of Gampe. He got it going with a 32-yard reception that put the ball on the Penn Cambria 30 and two plays later snagged his 24-yard touchdown pass midway through the third quarter.
Not long after, the Panthers put the brakes on their vaunted passing game, opting instead to put the game on the legs of Harrold and Grove. The Eagles had seen it before this season, but with both rushers clicking, Tyrone couldn’t keep up.
“We were in a position to go ahead, but we just couldn’t make some plays,” said Franco. “We have a very young team, and this is a good experience for them. I think it will pay off in the future for them.”
The Golden Eagles had one shot to take the lead in the second half after forcing the Panthers into only their second punt of the game late in the third quarter. Taking over at its own 37, Tyrone made it to Penn Cambria’s 40 in six plays before Ashton Walk was sacked for a 13-yard loss on third-and-9. Gampe, punting in place of an injured Zac LeGars, then shanked a 10-yard kick to give the Panthers the ball at their own 43.
Penn Cambria covered the distance in quick fashion, using nine straight running plays. Grove had five tries for 17 yards before Harrold broke free and scored from 19 yards out to make it 31-21 with 9:33 left in the game.
Until then, Tyrone had been able to absorb anything the Panthers threw at them, but that was about to change. The Eagles could advance only as far as their own 41 on the ensuing drive and were forced to go for it on fourth-and-4 with 9:01 remaining. Walk’s pass went incomplete, and Penn Cambria took over with a short field.
Harrold passed to Vinny Chirdon for 13 yards on first down, and the Panthers then went back to the ground attack. Grove got loose for 20 yards to the 4 and then blasted in from there on the next play to make it 38-21 after the second of three PAT kicks by Nick Noel with 7:10 to go.
Tyrone’s next series began at its own 9, and on the first play Walk floated a screen pass into the flat that was picked off by Gavin Harrold and returned 15 yards for the Panthers’ final score.
Walk finished 11-for-21 for 174 yards but was sacked twice and sent scrambling as many times as he was able to set up in the pocket.
Only a freshman, Walk ended the campaign 89-for-153 for 1,248 yards and 14 touchdowns, after taking over the starting role in Week 7.
Now 6-5, the Panthers are set for a rematch of a Week 5 game they lost to the Dragons 46-6.
“We’re going to go down there and have a good game plan on both sides of the ball,” said Felus. “We really want to focus on what we can control. We don’t talk about the games we’ve played in the past because that’s in the rearview mirror.”
SCORE BY QUARTERS
PENN CAMBRIA 12 6 6 21 – 45
TYRONE 0 14 7 0 – 21
P – Grove 4 run (PAT failed) 10:52
P – Shaugis 14 pass from Gar. Harrold (PAT pass failed) 1:10
P – Grove 16 run (PAT run failed) 7:17
T – Gampe 5 pass from Walk (Gwinn kick) 5:54
T – Beck 4 pass from Walk (Gwinn kick) 3:34
P – Grove 17 run (PAT run failed) 8:09
T – Gampe 24 pass from Walk (Gwinn kick) 6:30
P – Gar. Harrold 19 run (Noel kick) 9:33
P – Grove 4 run (Noel kick) 7:10
P – Gav. Harrold 15 interception return (Noel kick) 6:59
First Downs 9 20
Yards Rushing 18-28 45-241
Pass Att.-Comp.-Int. 11-21-1 17-19-0
Yards Passing 174 165
TOTAL OFFENSE 202 406
Fumbles/Lost 1-1 1-0
Punts/Avg. 3-22.6 1-39
Penalties/Yards 1-10 7-60
TYRONE – Ronan 5-9; Beck 4-12; Walk 8-6; LeGars 1-1.
PENN CAMBRIA – Gar. Harrold 17-87; Grove 20-136; Eckenrode 6-26; Team 2-(-4).
TYRONE – Walk 11-21-174, 3 TDs, 1 Int.
PENN CAMBRIA – Gar. Harrold 17-19-165, 1 TD, 0 Int.
TYRONE – Beck 5-67; Rhoades 1-36; Gampe 4-65; Ronan 1-6.
PENN CAMBRIA – Grove 2-11; Gav. Harrold 5-25; Eckenrode 2-16; Shaugis 4-69; Eberhart 1-6; Chirdon 3-38.