TYRONE - Central grabbed the momentum early in the second half of its District 5-6 Class AA semifinal playoff game against unbeaten Tyrone Friday night at Gray Veterans Memorial Field.
The Golden Eagles seized it back just as quickly, however, and in the process earned another trip to next weekend's district championship game.
After Central put together an impressive scoring drive to open the third quarter and move ahead, 7-3, Tyrone capitalized on a Scarlet Dragons' turnover and answered with a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth period that proved to be the springboard for a 17-7 victory.
Top-seeded Tyrone takes a 12-0 record into the district championship game against the winner of tonight's matchup between sixth-seeded Huntingdon and second-seeded Forest Hills at Sidman.
Central, which entered the tournament as the fifth seed, wrapped up a 7-5 season.
"It was just a great football game between two excellent football teams that played their hearts out,'' said Tyrone coach John Franco. "It's a shame one team had to lose.''
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Tyrone players (from left) Courtland Pannebaker, Jared Templeton, Kyle Ripka and Walter Russell celebrate the Eagles’ win.
Tyrone cashed in on a Central mistake to score the go-ahead touchdown. Four-year standout Lucas Runk, who played a pivotal role in the Scarlet Dragons' third-quarter scoring drive that gave Central a 7-3 lead, fumbled with 2:45 left in the third quarter and Tyrone junior defensive back Markus Wagner fell on the loose ball at the Central 48.
"I kind of left my feet and didn't have good balance on the play,'' Runk said.
Wagner reacted to the ball lying on the field.
"I saw the ball bouncing around, and I tried to get to it as fast as I could,'' Wagner said.
Tyrone moved 48 yards in 11 plays for the go-ahead touchdown after the turnover, with junior quarterback Steve Franco popping through the line for a 1-yard score with 10:05 left in the game. Key plays in the drive were Steve Franco's 10-yard run to the Central 35 for one first down, and his swing pass to junior fullback James Dorminy that carried 10 yards to the 24 for another.
"Big plays helped us get momentum, and that momentum helped us,'' Dorminy said.
Trailing, 3-0 at halftime, Central marched 65 yards on eight plays on its opening possession of the second half. Runk ripped off 27 yards on a burst off left tackle, then came up big again on a 19-yard, fourth-down reception of senior quarterback Derek Nothstein's pass across the middle of the field that gave Central a first down at the Tyrone 11. After junior Jarrod Knisely's 10-yard run to the 1, senior back Lucas Blattenberger barreled into the end zone to help Central to a 7-3 lead.
"We knew at halftime that we had to come out and get something going,'' Runk said.
Central coach A.J. Hoenstine was impressed with the way his team came out in the third quarter.
"The kids ran hard on that drive,'' he said. "This is a tough pill to swallow, but I'm proud of them.''
Tyrone, playing without standout junior wideout Nick Patton, who is ill with mononucleosis, iced the victory on Dorminy's 2-yard touchdown run with 1:28 remaining. The Golden Eagles got the ball at the Central 19 after Tyrone's defense - which limited the Scarlet Dragons to just 11 total first-half yards - forced a four downs-and-out situation.
Tyrone, which got a 30-yard first-quarter field goal from senior kicker Jared Templeton, returns to the district championship game after having lost there to Forest Hills a year ago.
"Forest Hills and Huntingdon are obviously two excellent football programs,'' John Franco said. "Whoever we play next week, we're just happy to be back. And we want to be sure that we play our best football game.''
Game notes: John Franco said that Patton's status is "week-to-week" after the star player's diagnosis Thursday night. ... Zach Lingenfelter recovered a fumble for Central and Steve Franco and Kyle Ripka both intercepted passes for Tyrone.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Central0 0 7 0 - 7
Tyrone0 3 0 14 - 17
T-Templeton 30 FG, 11:52.
C-Blattenberger 1 run (Mueller kick), 8:09.
T-Franco 1 run (Templeton kick), 10:05.
T-Dorminy 2 run (Templeton kick), 1:28.
RUSHING: Central-Runk 7-40, Knisely 5-21, Nothstein 10-19, Blattenberger 3-10, Kreider 2-(-3). Tyrone-Getz 33-147, Franco 11-42, Dorminy 5-24, Emigh 1-7, Team 1-(-0).
PASSING: Central-Nothstein 3-13-2-40, Runk 0-3-0-0. Tyrone-Franco 4-12-0-37.
RECEIVING: Central-Runk 1-19, Keefer 1-19, Blattenberger 1-2. Tyrone-Emigh 2-23, Dorminy 1-10, Zook 1-4.
INTERCEPTIONS: Tyrone-Franco, Ripka.