Tyrone football team faces tough task

Tyrone has had a better 2013 season than 2012, avenging a loss to Bellwood-Antis early on and withstanding an upset bid by Bald Eagle Area in the District 6 Class AA quarterfinals.

But now the Golden Eagles have a huge task ahead of them.

Next up, in the semifinals, is 11-0 Richland, which is not only the defending district champion, the top seed and have scored 40 or more points nine times, but the Rams are also ranked third in Class AA by the Pennsylvania Football News.

The fourth-seeded Eagles (9-2), who rallied from 21-7 down against BEA to win, 26-21, in the quarters, and the Rams will square off at 7 p.m. Friday at Richland’s Herlinger Field. Richland beat Tyrone, 43-22, in the semifinals last season.

“We’ve clearly got our job cut out for ourselves,” Tyrone coach Steve Guthoff said. “They have a lot of weapons. I always think it’s much more fun as an underdog. They have a great facility. Last year, I even took pictures. They have everything there, and our guys would agree with that. The pressure is really on Richland versus trying to make something happen.”

Richland coach Brandon Bailey is trying to downplay being the clear favorite for the game.

“I don’t know if we’re a heavy favorite,” he said. “The so-called experts might have us as the favorites. Tyrone gave us a tough game last year. We’re excited to still be playing. They have a good team, and there a lot of stars on both sides.”

The Rams, who are coming off of a 46-6 romp over Ligonier Valley, haven’t been tested much this season. Bellwood-Antis hung tough with them early before losing, 35-14, and Somerset led, 24-21, going into the fourth quarter before the Rams pulled out a 28-24 win.

“We’re very happy with our performance this year,” Bailey said. “We’ve been ranked No. 1 in the state in total yards, and our starters have only played one full game [against Somerset]. We have rested a lot of people, and a lot of kids have gotten varsity action.

“Some people says they’d rather have a loss going into the playoffs. I don’t subscribe to that idea. We definitely had a gutcheck against Somerset. That was very beneficial to us. Bellwood tested us early, and we pulled away in the second half.”

The key cogs in Richland’s scoring machine are a 2,000-yard passer in Matt Shaffer (132-of-214 for 2,149 yards, 28 touchdowns, six interceptions), an 800-yard receiver in Kyle Flick (41 receptions, 831 yards, 13 TDs) and a 1,400-yard rusher in Tanner Solarczyk (147 carries, 1,417 yards, 15 TDs).

“You’ve got to be sound all over on defense against them,” Guthoff said. “Their quarterback is just outstanding, and he throws balls on a rope. He’s dangerous when he carries the ball. No. 20 [Solarczyk] is an exceptional running back. When he gets his shoulders squared, he’s as good of a back as we’ve seen. With No. 8 [Flick] as a receiver … those three are really dangerous.

“We’re not going to stray too far away from what we do, but we’ve got to have some wrinkles against a team with a better record than us. Our goal this week is to slow it down. Nobody is going to shut them down. We don’t want to get into a shootout with them.”

So, not only will the Eagle defense have to play well, the offense, led by tailback James Oliver (1,481 yards on 181 carries, 27 TDs) and quarterback Erik Wagner (90-of-164, 1,443 yards, 15 TDs, four interceptions), will have to be at its best.

“[Oliver] is important because he’s such a big part of the offense,” Guthoff said. “By the same token, if they gameplan to stop him, they can slow him down. Clearfield left us open to a passing game by gameplanning to stop James. We have to be able to throw the ball. We’re at least able to go to that more than last year if we have to.”

Both coaches say their excited to be able to play. The winner moves on to the district championship against either Central or Forest Hills.

“It’s a challenge for us,” Guthoff said. “Bald Eagle was a really good game to have for us. We dealt with the adversity and came out of it OK. If we get down by two or three touchdowns against these guys, we might not have the same ending.”