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Central, Tyrone need to win before one final matchup

The Tyrone defense could have its hands full with the Penn Cambria offense on Saturday. Mirror file photo

Central and Tyrone were supposed to play Sept. 4 for the final time as Mountain League opponents.

That game was moved to this Friday when the first two weeks of the high school football season were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A couple weeks ago, the game was called off again due to District 6 moving the Class 3A playoffs up two weeks.

Now, the Scarlet Dragons and Golden Eagles are hoping to finally get to play next weekend for the District 6 title. Third-seeded Penn Cambria and fourth-seeded Westmont Hilltop stand in the way of that matchup this weekend.

“This has been the most unusual season ever, not just in football, pretty much every sport,” Tyrone football coach John Franco said. “We’re undefeated. Yes, it’s only playing five games, and you think that wouldn’t be as satisfying, but in a lot of ways it’s more satisfying, because I have never experienced a season where there was so much adversity. It’s really difficult to overcome that as a professional athlete let alone a high school athlete.”

The Golden Eagles had a week off the second week of the season after a COVID-19 case at Clearfield postponed their game. Tyrone returned from the week off to win four straight after a season-opening win over Bellefonte, and the Eagles have yet to taste defeat as they welcome a 3-3 Penn Cambria team Saturday at 7 p.m. that Franco is very familiar with.

“They throw the ball as well as I have seen anybody throw it,” Franco said. “I’m pretty familiar with a lot of their guys. I coached several of them who started for me as sophomores. (Harrold) was our junior high quarterback my last two years there, and you could see that he was going to be an outstanding talent, and he is. They’ve got it all going with the passing game.

“They have three outstanding receivers. My former quarterback (Jake Tsikalas) is a pretty good receiver for them, and their top two receivers (Brandon Storm, Nick Marinak) were my top two receivers two years ago as sophomores.”

Penn Cambria coach Nick Felus, who took over for Franco after previously coaching Altoona, knows his team is in for a challenge.

“They run the ball very well, and they are tough up front with a physical downhill running game,” Felus said. “They have a couple playmakers. Their quarterback (Brandon Lucas) is extremely athletic, and Damon Gripp is an extremely talented wide receiver who runs smooth routes. You have to be aware of those guys and limit the big plays.”

Marinak’s 93-yard kickoff return for a score against Bedford last week caught Franco’s eye.

“They score a ton of points and have a good defense,” Franco said. “They are a threat to score every time they touch the ball on special teams. I’m really impressed with them. I feel good for them for their success up to this point, because I coached them and know them pretty well. They are a good group, no doubt about it.”

A key component to Saturday’s game will likely be Tyrone’s ability to pressure Harrold, something Bedford did pretty well last week in a 50-25 triumph.

“It’s extremely important to give (Harrold) some time to throw, because we feel like we have excellent receivers that can run routes and get open,” Felus said. “Garrett has a great understanding of the offense, but we have to protect him and give him time to read the defense. We also have to put him in a position to get rid of the ball quicker in some situations when teams are bringing pressure.”

Tyrone will be trying to recover from a physical 35-27 win over Philipsburg-Osceola last week in which many players, including Gripp and Tommy Hicks, had to take plays off due to injury.

“Health is a concern,” Franco said. “We have to get our bumps and bruises worked out. We just had some crazy injuries that didn’t even really involve any hitting or anything like that. The crazy things that have happened to us the past couple years just kind of surfaced, but playing Saturday probably helps us a little bit to give us an extra day.”

Westmont Hilltop will try to make Friday’s other semifinal game as physical as possible. The Hilltoppers are known for their ball-control offense and ability to keep high-powered offenses off the field, something they will try to do against Central Friday at Hollidaysburg’s Tiger Stadium at 7 p.m.

“We have a good bit of spread teams in our conference and go up against those type of styles,” Westmont Hilltop coach Pat Barron said. “We’re going to need to play well offensively and finish drives, which has been one of our issues this year. We have had some good, time-consuming drives, but we have to make each one count and limit their possessions. They obviously have some great weapons and a great quarterback running the show. We certainly have our hands full.”

That quarterback is sophomore Jeff Hoenstine, who leads the Mirror’s coverage area with more than 1,600 yards passing in just six games — all wins by the Scarlet Dragons.

Hoenstine will have to be efficient Friday, however.

“You aren’t going to get as many chances,” Central coach Dave Baker said. “We have to play very well on special teams, and we have to take advantage of every chance we get. We have to play a little more aggressively against the run on defense.”

Baker said making Westmont drive the length of the field will be important. The Hilltoppers (2-3) have attempted just 13 passes this season.

“It’s very important that we try to score each time we have the ball and not make mistakes,” Baker said. “We have to make sure that if we give up the ball that it’s deep in their territory. You don’t want them to be in four-down territory, because they are willing to take four downs to get a first down every time.

“They aren’t doing a lot of pass defense in practice. We should have an advantage there.”

All four coaches expressed relief and excitement that their teams have made it this far after so much uncertainty to begin the high school football season.

“This is great for our program, our school and our community,” Felus said. “We talk about it every day. We play for our community, and we love to make them proud. Considering everything that everyone has gone through this year with COVID, just to have the opportunity to play and be in the playoffs is special. We want our kids to embrace this opportunity and play for our community.”

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