Looking for edge: Eagles aim to avenge ’12 Brawl loss

Tyrone has had the upper hand against Bellwood-Antis in the Backyard Brawl, holding a 50-27-1 edge, but the Blue Devils proved they didn’t care about history in last year’s game.

B-A quarterback Seth Worthing’s two touchdowns, including a 35-yard beauty with the score tied in the fourth quarter, and a late defensive stand lifted the Blue Devils to a 22-15 before a large crowd at Tyrone.

The Devils, who won a District 6 Class A title last year, have had a whole year to enjoy that win, but both coaches say that game won’t be a factor when the teams clash at 7 tomorrow night at B-A’s Memorial Field.

“I don’t think so,” B-A coach John Hayes said when asked if it was an advantage for his team. “At the high school level from year to year, there are big changes. Leadership changes. Personnel changes. It’s nice to have it and enjoy it, but it won’t mean much this Friday. The other team might use it as an advantage to change directions.”

“I think the guys feel more confident where we are right now than last year. The transition is over,” said Tyrone’s Steve Guthoff, who was in his first year as the Golden Eagles’ coach in 2012. “A lot of the kinks are out. It was pretty evident that first week we didn’t do a good job of getting them ready.”

One Eagle who was obviously ready was running back James Oliver, who ran for 221 yards on 27 carries and scored two touchdowns, including his game-tying 12-yarder in the fourth quarter.

This year’s game is showcase of talented running backs in Oliver and B-A’s Casey Gray, both of whom ran for 1,885 yards on 243 and 311 carries, respectively. Gray scored 29 touchdowns, while Oliver scored 26 TDs.

Gray is running behind an offensive line that has three starters back in center Kyler Maceno, tackle Ryan Snyder and guard Nick Torsell. Oliver, on the other hand, has only one returning starting lineman in Seth Umholtz on a line that includes two seniors, two sophomores and a freshman.

“There are two outstanding backs returning,” Guthoff said. “I saw Gray in a scrimmage, and he’s a real threat. Both of us are very similar. We’re run first and we’ll have to be good enough to throw. We’re Tyrone, and we’re not going to stray too much from makes us Tyrone. Bellwood has always executed very well. They’re not going to trick you.”

“Both guys are pretty good,” Hayes said. “Their numbers were the same, but [Oliver] certainly had the game against us last year. Gray had a good game [20 carries, 108 yards, 41-yard TD run] and a great year. We have to make sure where No. 24 [Oliver] is for them. I’m sure they’re focused on Gray. Sometimes it comes down to blocking and other people.”

Hayes might depend more on Gray because Worthing has graduated and 6-foot-2, 160-pound sophomore Jake Burch steps into that spot. His counterpart, senior Erik Wagner, has a year of experience under his belt for the Eagles.

B-A, obviously, went on a run against the Tyrone game last year, finishing the year with a 13-2 record and making the PIAA semifinals, where it lost to Dunmore, 40-19. Tyrone went 8-4, and the Eagles scored 227 points during a four-game winning streak.

Both coaches only have scrimmages and practices to go by to evaluate their respective teams, and they’re ready to see them in action.

“We’ve had two good weeks of preseason, and I do think we’ve improved,” said Hayes, who needs one more win for his 280th career victory,. “I kind of like our team. It’s all relative to the other team. They’re pretty good. When emotions are high, momentum has a way of changing. We won’t know until the game starts.”

“I think they’re tired of practicing against each other,” Guthoff said. “Our first scrimmage against Windber was really short. Last week, we don’t gameplan, but Chestnut Ridge had a lot of experienced players. This year, we might pay the price early. We have to be patient because we’re a work in progress.”

Experience in this game has to be an advantage. The teams will be playing before a huge crowd at B-A, and emotions will be very high.

“If you’re not excited about this week, you won’t ever be excited,” Hayes said. “We got to get our feet on the ground, but we have to be moving with enthusiasm.”

“Tyrone travels as well as anyone,” Guthoff said. “We’ll have as much orange and black there as they’ll have blue and gold.”