For one brief, shining interval, Bald Eagle Area’s dream of beating Tyrone for the first time since 1994 lived.
Then the Golden Eagles did what teams with their playoff pedigree do: They stomped that sucker flat.
And so BEA’s season ended on a chilly Saturday night at Gray Veteran’s Memorial Field with a 26-21 defeat in the District 6 Class AA football playoffs, leaving it to ponder what might have been.
Because that elusive victory was there for the taking when the Eagles took a 21-7 lead midway through the third quarter.
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But Tyrone did what it has done through so much of its playoff history. It came storming back to pull out a win with a fourth-quarter touchdown, and then a defensive stand that turned away BEA at the Tyrone 31 with 30 seconds left in the game.
Before that, BEA had the Golden Eagles on their heels thanks to a rugged defensive performance and the pass-catch combination of Jason Jones and Bryan Greene. That duo hooked up seven times for 220 yards and all three BEA touchdowns. Jones finished a magnificent night by completing 10 of 18 passes for 241 yards.
As it turned out, however, the play that stood out in hindsight was a 49-yard punt by Tyrone’s Erik Wagner that was downed at the BEA 1 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. BEA could only move out to its own 7, and Jones’ punt was downed at the BEA 48. It only took Tyrone five plays to score the go-ahead touchdown when James Oliver went off the left side from the 5. The pass for the two-point conversion was stopped short. The key play in the drive was a four-yard run by Oliver that was followed by a 15-yard facemask penalty that put the ball on the BEA 19.
“That punt was a backbreaker,” an emotional BEA coach Jack Tobias said.
Earlier the Jones-Greene combination appeared as though it was going to be a heartbreaker for the Golden Eagles.
After Tyrone scored on its first possession, driving 80 yards in 11 plays with Oliver getting the final 10 yards with 2:26 left in the quarter, BEA turned to its passing game.
Taking over on its own 34, BEA gained a yard on two plays before Jones connected with Greene down the right sideline for a 65-yard score with 52 seconds left in the first quarter. Tyler Schall made it 7-7.
BEA took the lead late in the half when Jones threw a perfectly placed pass over Greene’s left shoulder in the front corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Schall kicked the PAT with 1:22 left in the half.
On its first possession of the second half Jones and Greene connected for six yards to the BEA 21, then Jones hit Greene in stride on a fly pattern down the right sideline for a 79-yard score. Schall’s kick made it 21-7 with 8:07 still to play in the third quarter.
“Our coverage wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible,” said Tyrone coach Steve Guthoff, who coached from atop the press box in the second half. “Sometimes you just have to give credit for a great catch, a great throw and great pass protection. You just have to say how well executed those plays were.
“This was an outstanding game. It was clear to me that they came in here with confidence. They are a really good football team and we’re fortunate to get out of here with a win. This was a fight for survival. Bald Eagle made us fight to survive.”
Following BEA’s third touchdown, the Golden Eagles took the kickoff and needed only four plays to score as Oliver broke loose for 43 yards at the 6:46 mark and Seth Umholtz made it 21-14.
Two series later came the game-changer. A punt by Wagner backed the Eagles up to their own 25 and a penalty moved them back five more yards. Byran Greene was thrown for a four-yard loss out of the Wildcat, and on the next play Jones threw down the middle and was picked off by Elijah Sleeth at the 26 and he returned it for a touchdown. However, Umholtz’s PAT kick was no good, leaving the score at 21-20 with 2:22 remaining in the third quarter.
After Oliver had scored the go-ahead touchdown, BEA began a drive from its own 26 that carried all the way to the Tyrone 22. But on first down a reverse by Greene was blown up for a 13-yard loss and the Eagles were never able to recover, finally turning the ball over on downs when Jones’ fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
“We were one block away from a touchdown on that reverse,” Tobias said. “That one block was the difference between winning and losing. That would have put us ahead with not much time left on the clock.
“But I’ll say this for our kids, they left everything on the field tonight. I didn’t want this season to end for those seniors. They brought Bald Eagle football back to where it was when I played here.”