TYRONE - James Oliver ran the ball 40 times Friday night at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field, but the biggest play he made may have been with his arm.
The Golden Eagle junior threw his first pass of the season and made it count with a 51-yard scoring strike to Charles Wilson-Adams as Tyrone jumped ahead of Class AAAA Central Mountain by 14 in the first quarter. The Golden Eagles held off a late Wildcat rally and picked up an important 26-18 win to solidify their playoff position.
"It was big for us to get a big lead early," Tyrone's James Oliver said. "We knew what we had at stake tonight, and we had to take advantage of it. We came out in the first half and did what we needed to do."
Oliver, who came into the game leading the Mirror's coverage area in rushing by nearly 400 yards with 1,334, was held to 4.6 yards per carry and only broke off two runs of 20 yards or longer. However, with 40 carries he still amassed 183 yards and had touchdown runs of 12, 5 and 2 yards.
"We knew that we were going to work James a lot," Tyrone coach Steve Guthoff said. "That's why he's not a defensive player. Since he's not on the field defensively, we know that we can go over the normal 25 carries max that you want to give a tailback.
"We probably gave it to him a few more times tonight than I would have liked, but it gets back to the point that we have a lot of work to do with being more dimensional offensively."
Other than Oliver's 51-yard pass, the Golden Eagles once again struggled to pass the ball. Quarterback Erik Wagner finished just 3-for-9 with an interception and just 23 yards through the air.
"I'm still really disappointed in the passing game," Gutoff said. "You have got to be able to throw the ball better than what we've been doing."
Central Mountain outgained Tyrone by 140 yards, had more first downs than the Golden Eagles, and the tandem of quarterback Von Walker and tailback Drew Alexander combined to rush for 251 yards.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, most of that came in the second half after they fell down by 20 points at halftime.
Central Mountain scored 12 points in the final 2:10, but Tyrone's Ben Makdad recovered an onside kick with 39 seconds left to seal the victory.
"Our offensive line played probably the best half of football I've seen them play all year," Central Mountain coach Vinnie Kishbaugh said. "We stressed with them all week that we can't win football games if they aren't playing well, and they decided to come out in the second half, put their ears back and play."
The Wildcats (3-5) got the opening kickoff of the second half and drove 55 yards on eight runs by Alexander and a 12-yard pass from Walker to Alex Honetor. Alexander capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown plunge. Central Mountain had as many first downs (three) on the drive as it did in the entire first half.
Tyrone (5-3) responded with its only significant drive of the second half, going 61 yards on 11 plays. Oliver finished the drive with a 2-yard run of his own to make the score 26-6, but the game was far from over.
Blaze Buckwalter scored from a yard out with 2:10 to play, and Central Mountain was unable to come up with the onside kick. However, the Wildcats used a timeout, and Tyrone threw an incomplete pass that allowed Central Mountain to get the ball back with just under two minutes left.
Walker connected with Cole Renninger on a pair of long passes, the second a 29-yard scoring throw, and with 39 seconds left, Central Mountain trailed by just eight.
After Makdad recovered the second onside kick, Tyrone took a knee twice to run out the clock.
Tyrone will travel to Penns Valley next week.
"I feel like we're getting better every week," Oliver said. "We just have to keep getting better, and we can make a run for a title."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Central Mountain0 0 6 12 - 18
Tyrone14 6 0 6 - 26
T-Oliver 12 run (Umholtz kick), 4:28.
T-Wilson-Adams 51 pass from Oliver (Umholtz kick), 1:25.
T-Oliver 5 run (kick failed), 4:41.
CM-Alexander 2 run (kick failed), 8:36.
T-Oliver 2 run (kick failed), 11:21.
CM-Buckwalter 1 run (pass failed), 2:10.
CM-Renninger 29 pass from Walker (kick failed), 0:39.
RUSHING: Central Mountain-Walker 15-150, Alexander 19-101, Buckwalter 5-3. Tyrone-Oliver 40-183, Snyder 2-18, TEAM 2-(-5), Wagner 4-(-10).
PASSING: Central Mountain-Walker 8-19-1-126. Tyrone-Wagner 3-9-1-23, Oliver 1-1-0-51.
RECEIVING: Central Mountain-Pavalko 4-52, Renninger 2-66, Honetor 1-12, Alexander 1-(-4). Tyrone-Wilson-Adams 3-72, Snyder 1-2.
INTERCEPTIONS: Central Mountain-Pavalko. Tyrone-Wilson-Adams.