Two weeks ago, the Bald Eagle Area football team was fighting to make the District 6 Class AA playoffs.
Two wins later, BEA is the No. 5 seed among eight teams to qualify and the Eagles (6-4) get a rematch at fourth-seeded Tyrone (8-2) in the opening round at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Thanks to convincing victories of Bellefonte (57-12) and Ligonier Valley (46-6), the Eagles shot to fifth in the power rankings.
“I think the kids are excited about it,” BEA coach Jack Tobias said. “Obviously, that’s the best seed we could get. We have a familiar opponent. I think there are positives from the first game we played against them. We’re looking at the tape and trying to build on those things and come up with a better gameplan.”
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The first time the two teams met, Tyrone won 14-0 in a surprisingly defensive clash on Oct. 4. Combined, the two teams had scored 40 or more points in a game nine times in the regular season.
Tyrone will face a diffent Eagles attack than the one they saw that night at Gray Stadium.
BEA unveiled a new wrinkle last week by running the Wildcat offense with receiver Bryan Greene taking the snaps. Not only was Greene effective running and throwing (usually to his twin brother Bryce), the Eagles’ normal sets worked well in hammering a Ligonier Valley team that had crushed them twice last season.
“It lets us get the ball in our playmakers’ hands,” said Tobias, who estimated his team ran out of the Wildcat about 25 percent of the time against the Rams. “It spreads some things out. Traditionally, we’re always in our I or tight formations and we face 8 or 9 guys in the box. ... To be able to spread things out, get some people moving around, throw the ball in space to a couple guys in space, they can make moves and make things happen on a three-yard swing pass.
“It just got them moving around and people in different personnel positions. It made some changes and when we came back to our other stuff, everything just seemed to click. It added a little extra fire and the kids enjoyed doing it.”
Tyrone will also see a healthier team than the one it saw a month ago, especially on the offensive line. Hunter Hall, Levi Cramer, Tanner Cramer, Dakota Rossman and Ben Bytheway paved the way for the Eagles’ 358-225 edge in total yardage. Quarterback Jason Jones fired a pair of touchdown passes to Bryce Greene.
“We finally have got everybody back together and healthy and they’ve played together now for about three weeks,” Tobias said. “Things are starting to gel up front. When you can give your quarterback time like he had Friday night, good things happen.
“They did a phenomenal job,” Tobias added. “Being a lineman, I know how important it is to play beside the guy you’re going to play with Friday night all week at practice. When you’re moving multiple parts and people are communicating and trying to check off in blocking schemes, it’s tough when you don’t have the continuity with the guys there every week. The last two or three weeks we’ve been able to do that and the guys are gaining confidence.”
While the offensive line faces a defense that has held five opponents under 10 points, the BEA defensive line has its own problems with a Tyrone offense led by tailback James Oliver. The senior rushed for 188 yards, including a 14-yard score in the first meeting between the two teams.
For the season, Oliver has rushed for 1,275 yards and 21 touchdowns. He’s averaging more than 8 1/2 yards per carry.
“Obviously, he’s the key to the game,” Tobias said. “He put up 170-plus yards on us last time. We just need to stop him and make sure we don’t give up the big play. We gave up one last time and he chipped away at us. We need make them drive the ball on long 10- to 12-play drives and stop them.”
Tyrone quarterback Erik Wagner had completed just 66 passes, but they’ve gone for 1,184 yards and 13 touchdowns. His favorite target is Nicholas Getz, who has 29 catches for 533 yards and five scores.
Jones also has made the most of his 66 completions, throwing for 1,155 yards and 12 scores. His favorite targets are the Greenes, who have combined for 47 catches and nine touchdowns. Dakota Bartley paces the BEA rushing attack with 848 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Greenes are also dangerous on kick returns. Ryan Watkins and Austin Cowher have combined for 167 tackles for the Eagle defense.
Tobias says his team, which fell in the first round last season, will enter the contest playing its best football of the season.
“The guys are excited,” he said. “They’ve been building the last two weeks. You see it every day at practice, there’s a little bit more confidence and a little bit more continuity in what we’re doing.”