November 3, 2012
BINGHAMTON — Tioga Central took advantage of two costly Groton Central penalties in its opening scoring drive and never looked back in a dominating Section 4 Class D championship game football win.
The No. 2 state-ranked Class D team ran for 533 yards on the Alumni Stadium turf in Binghamton while limiting the powerful Indians’ rushing game to minus-four yards during a 52-8 romp, as the Tigers claimed their second straight sectional crown Friday.
Tioga (9-1 overall) could very well be named the new number one team in the state after Maple Grove was knocked out 21-0 by 2009 state champion Randolph in the Section 6 title game. Tioga will face Section 3 champion and fourth-ranked Sandy Creek (10-0) in a regional playoff game next weekend. Groton (8-2) was ranked 16th in the state entering Friday night’s game.
“We really came out firing on all cylinders,” Tioga coach Nick Aiello said. “We played well on defense and, offensively, we were really clicking. It was good to see.
“We learned a lesson last week. We were fortunate to come out of the Unatego game with a victory,” he added, Tioga surviving 26-21 in the semifinals. “It really refocused us. The kids were sharp, focused and were ready to strap ‘em up as soon as they stepped off the bus.”
Aiello agreed the two early penalties were a help.
“I think we were a little jittery and those penalties did help us on that first drive,” Aiello said.
“We had them stopped and they were going to punt on that first one,” Groton coach Jeff Lewis said of the potential three-and-out that was lost. “They called us for being in the neutral zone. It kind of snowballed from there. It is a tough time to swallow. The guys said they weren’t in the neutral zone, but I stood on the line and they did it two or three more times, so I knew they were lining up wrong.
“It hurts in big games like this,” he continued. “ I guess it’s just the hype of this type of game and it got to them tonight. Tioga is a good team. They are well-coached, disciplined and don’t make a lot of mistakes. They were better than us tonight.”
TIOGA’S OPENING nine-play scoring drive came after Groton went three-and-out on the game’s first drive. Tioga freshman Jesse Manuel capped the Tigers’ drive with a 39-yard sprint off right tackle with 5:05 left in the first quarter. Manuel earned Offensive Player of the Game honors by rushing for 272 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries to lead the Tioga ground attack.
“Manuel certainly has a second gear,” Aiello said in praise of his young runner. “He can turn it on. His first step is so quick. If we can get a seam open, he is going to hit it with speed and he had a great night for us.
They did key on (Tyler) Spires, but that’s what is nice about having three good backs,” he continued. “If you try to key on him, he will open up holes for the other guys.”
“He’s a greasy runner,” Lewis said. “We hit him and the other guys in the backfield a number of times. We just did not wrap them up and bring them down. We didn’t make the tackles and that hurt us.”
The Indians went three-and-out on their next possession, but junior Zeke Wright pinned Tioga back at its own 13-yard line with a good 46 yard punt. Tioga responded with another nine play scoring drive. Junior quarterback Ryan Vergason closed out this drive with 11:56 left in the first half on a two-yard run. The conversion run as good and the lead stood at 16-0.
Groton got its best drive of the first half, but it stalled on fourth down at the Tioga 21. Meanwhile, the Tigers scored on their next two possessions. Senior back Tyler Spires raced 14 yards for one score and Manuel added an 11-yard scamper with 1:20 left in the half as the Tigers’ lead grew to 32-0.
Tioga ran for 317 yards in the first half while Groton was held to minus 13 yards on 12 carries, including two sacks of junior quarterback Jeff Hatfield for a loss of 19 yards. Junior tailback Zeke Wright was held to three yards on eight carries in the first half before finishing with 23 yards on 11 carries and the lone Indians’ score on a one-yard run with 4:03 left in the third quarter. Manuel scored earlier in the quarter on a 56-yard touchdown run, but Wright’s tally and Hatfield’s two-point run made the score 38-8 in favor of the Tigers.
“ZEKE WRIGHT IS one heck of a running back.” Aiello said. “He runs much like his brother (Sammy) did a couple of years ago. We thought if we could control up front that our linebackers could key on him a bit. We knew if we could keep him from getting going, it would be a good thing, otherwise, he could have been a long night for us. We slowed him down early and that was a help.”
Brad Jump scored on a two-yard blast and Matt Jump found the end zone from 13 yards out for the final Tioga touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
A Groton bright spot was the passing by Hatfield who completed nine of 16 attempts for 107 yards. Senior wide out Damian Young was his favorite target with six catches for 76 yards.
“Jeff did have a pretty good game,” Lewis said. “He threw the ball up there. We thought we could attack them that way.
“We knew it would be tough sledding trying to run the ball,” he added. “That’s way we put Zeke out there as well. We had then both out wide to throw to and the game plan was right. The ball just did not bounce our way tonight.”
Spires earned the Defensive Player of the Game award for his efforts while he also rushed for 91 yards on 15 carries. Junior right guard and defensive end Carter Jackson earned the MVP award for his work opening holes for the Tigers’ running game and plugging those same hole to hold Groton a 103 total offensive yards.
It was a good season overall for Groton. A return to the title game and an 8-2 record are things to be proud of.
“I am proud of the kids,” Lewis said. “Nobody really expected us to even get in the playoffs, much less make a run at it. We got a division championship and I’m proud of that. I can honestly say that we got better as the season went along. We jelled well as a team in the playoffs.“We going to be battling Tioga for a while,” he continued. “That’s the nature of the beast. It’s like Walton and Delhi always butting heads. Sooner or later, you do get their number and you’ll get at them.”
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