Consecutive losses to begin the season left the Tyrone Area Golden Eagles with little margin for error the rest of the way.
They haven't needed any, so far.
The Eagles have responded in the last month with astronomical scores, lopsided wins and record-setting rushing numbers.
"They rose to the challenge. They understood that we all had to get better," said Steve Guthoff, who is in his first year as head coach of the Eagles after a couple of stints as an assistant.
How much better the Eagles have gotten will be put to the test on Friday night when Mountain League front-runner Clearfield brings its unbeaten record to Gray-Veterans Memorial Field for one of the most-anticipated games in the region on this week's high school football docket.
Tyrone is 4-2 overall and 4-1 in the league, a half-game behind the Bison and a half-game ahead of third-place Central. The game, which features two of the most prolific offenses in this part of the state and also carries some big ramifications for the Eagles in their quest for a high playoff seed, kicks off at 7 p.m.
"Wow. They do a lot of things right," Guthoff said of the Bison. "They have good coaching and talented players. That's a pretty nice combination to have."
Guthoff could make a similar claim. The Eagles entered the season returning the like of Charles Wilson-Adams, Maverick Mills, Ben Makdad, Seth Welch, Corey Snyder, Hayden Zook, Lucas Woomer, Seth Umholtz and Ryan Fink from a team that played for the PIAA Class AA championship last year and added some pretty talented athletes like James Oliver, Erik Wagner, Justin Reader and Aleic Hunter to the starting mix.
All that wasn't adding up to wins early in the year. The Eagles have turned it around, though. Tyrone has outscored its last four opponents by 201 points. Oliver, a junior, broke the school record for rushing yards in a game last week with 342 in a little more than a half of action; he's leading the area with 1,209 yards. Led by Oliver and Hunter, the Eagles are averaging more than 10 yards per carry in the last month.
"We just needed some time. That's really what it came down to," Guthoff said. "As much as things looked really rough the first couple of weeks, I knew we had some good ballplayers. It was really just a matter of getting them playing time, especially defensively."
Guthoff added some formations to the offense and tweaked the line scheme in addition to making some minor but significant personnel moves as the players started to get comfortable with the coaching changes.
"On both sides of the ball, there's a period of time when a team has to adapt to a new coaching staff," said Clearfield coach Tim Janocko, who is in his 28th year with the Bison. "They've done that, and they've been playing well the past four weeks."
The Bison have been, too, as well as the first two weeks. A one-point thriller against Central in the third game of the season was the closest Clearfield has come to being knocked off. The Bison's next closest contest was 15 points; they won a game by 47 points earlier this year and their last two victories are by a combined 56 points.
As with most Janocko teams, the offense takes center stage. Junior Christian Lezzer has made a successful transition from receiver to quarterback, completing more than 59 percent of his passes for 757 yards in addition to gaining 642 yards on the ground. Running back Tyler Stratton has rushed for 700 yards, and 11 of Trey Jordan's team-high 20 receptions have gone for scores.
Clearfield is averaging 40.2 points.
"Lezzer can throw, he can run. We've got to know where he is all the time. This might be the best one-two running combination we see all year," Guthoff said. "We've got to make sure we swarm to the ball, because these guys are going to make people miss. They're good. We're going to have two, three, four people on one tackle."
Players like Oliver present a similar problem for the Bison.
"It'll be a challenge," Janocko said. "There's no question."
This will be the first time the teams have squared off since 2008-09, when they each won a game at home. The Eagles and Bison have a pair of common opponents - Clearfield beat Bellefonte by 35 in addition to its 34-33 win against Central, while Tyrone topped Bellefonte by 38 after losing 28-0 to Central.
The Eagles played Central in the second week of the season.
The matchup has all the makings of being competitive, with potentially a lot of scoring.
"We have the potential to move the ball. They have the potential to move the ball and to put points on the board," Janocko said. "It's going to come down to who makes the last play, or at least who makes the big play in a key situation."