BELLWOOD - Going into Friday night's season-opening Backyard Brawl, much of the talk were the running backs, Tyrone's James Oliver and Bellwood-Antis' Casey Gray.
Tyrone senior quarterback/defensive back Erik Wagner, however, gave future opponents more to worry about than just Oliver.
Showing touch and poise, Wagner completed 14 of his 17 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown and intercepted first-year starter Jake Burch twice, and Oliver ran for TDs of 27 and 13 yards to lift the Golden Eagles to a 20-6 win before a large crowd on a steamy night at Memorial Stadium.
"This is the biggest game of my life," a hoarse Wagner said after hoisting the Backyard Brawl Trophy. "I'm just thankful that we got the victory. I've improved my game over the summer. I focused a lot on defense over the summer."
"He is just a student of the game," Tyrone coach Steve Guthoff said, "especially in the offseason with reads and hot reads. He made really good decisions."
"Give them all the credit," B-A coach John Hayes said. "He made some big plays. They gave him protection and he put the ball on the money."
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Tyrone’s Silas Crawford celebrates his touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter against Bellwood-Antis.
Wagner's interceptions were part of an opportunistic night for the Eagles, who forced five turnovers. All three of Tyrone's touchdowns followed B-A turnovers, traveling 48, 47 and 53 yards on the scoring drives. Sophomores Richard Reader and Zacharia Soellner and junior Duane Boone recovered fumbles for Tyrone.
"The turnovers were such a big part of the game," Guthoff said.
"Those turnovers are game-changers," Wagner said.
The Eagles weren't immune to mistakes as they lost two fumbles and muffed a punt. They were also hit for 11 penalties for 103 yards.
B-A, in fact, recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff, but Reader recovered a Burch fumble at the Tyrone 48. Three plays later, Oliver, who ran for 109 yards on 14 carries, scampered 27 yards for the first TD.
The Blue Devils drove to the Tyrone 8 on the ensuing possession, but Nick Getz sacked Burch and the B-A threw an incomplete pass on fourth down. Burch was 10-of-17 for 116 yards.
In the second quarter, after Wagner made a juggling interception, Tyrone drove to the B-A 13, where Oliver made a highlight-making run. The Devils pinned him on their own sideline, but Oliver reversed field, cut across the field to the other side and scored. Earlier in the half, Oliver made a great 29-yard catch in traffic.
"It came down to him having the presence of mind to know where he was on the field," Guthoff said. "He made a great physical play too. He's an excellent athlete."
"He might be the best in the area," Hayes said. "We missed a lot of good opportunities to tackle him, but it was more his doing than us."
The Eagles' defense struck again on the first series of the second half. Gray, who had 87 yards on 14 carries, scampered 19 yards to the Tyrone 10, but an Eagle defender ripped the ball from his hands and Boone recovered.
B-A finally got on the scoreboard on third-and-17 from the Tyrone 39, when Burch hit Randy Zitterbart for a touchdown 55 seconds into the fourth quarter.
After a Wagner fumble gave B-A the ball at the Tyrone 34, Wagner made another defensive play on third down, picking off a Burch pass 2 yards into the end zone and returning the ball 49 yards.
"I caught the ball and instincts took over," Wagner said.
On the next series, the Eagles drove to the B-A 28, where on third-and-22 Wagner found Silas Crawford for a touchdown.
"We ran the same play in the first half and James made that great catch," Wagner said. "I knew they would be cheating up on James, so I knew Silas would be open, and he made a great grab."
The Tyrone win comes a year after B-A triumphed in a series that the Eagles lead 51-27-1. The loss was a motivating factor, the Eagles said, in their preparation for the game.
"On my locker, I have taped up the scores of every game, and the losses are highlighted," Wagner said. "That 22-15 defeat definitely drove me."
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Tyrone7 7 0 6 - 20
Bellwood-Antis0 0 0 6 - 6
T-Oliver 27 run (Umholtz kick), 9:36.
T-Oliver 13 run (Umholtz kick), 2:10.
BA-Zitterbart 39 pass from Burch (kick failed), 11:05.
T-Crawford 28 pass from Wagner (kick failed), 4:20.
RUSHING: Tyrone-Oliver 14-109, Sleeth 5-19, Wagner 6-9, A. Hunter 1-0. Bellwood-Antis-Gray 14-87, T. Snyder 10-51, Lardieri 6-16, Stapleton 2-3, Wood 1-2, Burch 10-1.
PASSING: Tyrone-Wagner 14-17-0-146, TEAM 0-1-0-0. Bellwood-Antis-Burch 10-17-2-116, TEAM 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: Tyrone-Getz 6-63, Oliver 3-39, Crawford 2-30, Sleeth 2-9, Boone 1-5. Bellwood-Antis-Zitterbart 2-51, Stapleton 4-21, T. Snyder 2-19, Gray 1-14, Lardieri 1-11.
INTERCEPTIONS: Tyrone-Wagner 2. Bellwood-Antis-none.