Lovrich to debut against rivals

The matchup

Game: Tyrone Golden Eagles (3-8) vs. Bellwood-Antis Blue Devils (10-1) n

Where: Gray-Veterans Memorial Field

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

The coaches: Bellwood-Antis — Nick Lovrich (0-0, first year); Tyrone — Jason Wilson (29-19, fifth year)

Series record: Tyrone, 54-28-1 (first meeting in 1934)

Last meeting: Bellwood-Antis, 13-10, OT (Aug. 25, 2017)

n — records from 2017

By Michael Boytim

mboytim@altoonamirror.com

A year ago, Bellwood-Antis and Tyrone battled into overtime in an evenly matched contest.

From there, the teams went opposite directions.

The Blue Devils edged the Golden Eagles, 13-10, in that game and then went on to win the Inter-County Conference and finish the regular season unbeaten. Tyrone finished the year 3-8, the worst campaign for the Golden Eagles since Jason Wilson became the head coach.

“It was a tough loss in overtime last year,” Wilson said. “You know that game is always going to come down to the wire, but this year we’ve been working hard to rebound from last season.”

Getting a victory in the “Backyard Brawl” Friday at Gray-Veterans Memorial Field would be a good start.

“It’s a big game for us to go out and get a win right away,” Tyrone quarterback Denver Light said. “That would be really big for us to get our confidence up. Last year, we didn’t have a good year, but we’re going to try and get back to years in the past and come out and compete at a high level.”

Light and Bellwood-Antis’ Shawn Wolfe were the starting quarterbacks in last year’s game, and both return this season.

The most notable piece of the rivalry that will be missing is legendary B-A coach John Hayes, who retired at the end of the school year.

“It’s different without Coach Hayes,” Bellwood-Antis senior Caden Nagle said. “But we have a lot of life with a young coach. There’s more life in the locker room and weight room. You can just feel the increase in intensity from last year.”

That young coach is longtime B-A football assistant and head boys track and field coach Nick Lovrich.

“It’s going to be a real big thrill for me,” Lovrich said. “I’ve played in the game and been an assistant coach, but to be the head coach is going to be really exciting. Just being a fan of that game is a big thing, because there’s such a great rivalry between the two schools, and it has meant a lot to a lot of people for a long time.”

Lovrich and Wilson are both relatively young, leaving open the possibility that they will meet in many “Backyard Brawls” over the years like Hayes and former Tyrone and current Penn Cambria coach John Franco did.

“It would be nice to continue the rivalry with new coaches, coaching against each other for years down the road,” Wilson said.

The game is one of the most storied rivalries in the area and is the center of both teams’ focus throughout the summer.

“As a senior, this is the biggest football game of the year to our entire team, the town and just everyone,” Nagle said. “It’s important to win and do our best. We think about this game every single second.”

“It’s very important,” Wilson said. “As soon as last season ends, our focus goes toward Bellwood. It’s all you think about all winter, spring and summer. Even through camp, the whole focus is on the Bellwood game. To win that game and set the tone for the season is huge.”

Players and coaches take the cliches of it just being one game in a long season and throw it out the window.

“It’s a very big game,” Bellwood-Antis T.J. Wyland said. “It’s probably bigger than the first round of the playoffs. It means a lot to us to play in it and win it. It can mean everything for our regular season.”

The buildup to the game is something players from each team look forward to as much as the game itself.

“It’s the backyard brawl, so everyone knows about it,” Light said. “We have people coming from all over to come back and see it. It’s an exciting time, because that whole week we’re all focused on just that game. I’m already looking forward to (Friday) and the pep rally at the school.”

Lovrich agreed with Wilson that the momentum from Friday’s game can carry over into the rest of the season.

“It’s a huge game, because it gives you a little extra burst of confidence,” Lovrich said. “In the beginning of the year, there’s always those question marks. If you come out of that first game against your arch rival 1-0, it makes you that much more pumped up.”

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