By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — Longtime Tioga football coach Nick Aiello is use to opening the season against tough opponents, having faced Newark Valley or Chenango Forks in six of their last seven season openers.
This season, the Tigers, who are coming off their seventh Class D title in eight years, will open at home against Walton, then will host arch-rival Newark Valley in Week 2.
“It’s an awesome way to start the season,” said Aiello. “Playing Walton in Week 1 will give us a good indication of where we’re at compared to them. They return every starter except for one.
“Playing Newark Valley is always a great game — it’s always a good test for us, against a bigger school, a rival school,” noted Aiello. “We haven’t beat them in four years, so that will be good motivation over the summer.
“We’ve opened with (NV) the last two years … It will be nice to have a game under our belt going into that one,” added Aiello. “(NV) does a lot of things over the summer that we don’t necessarily do, and I think that kind of helps them in preparation for Week 1.”
Along with playing Walton, Tioga also plays at Unatego in Week 4, and finishes up the regular season at home in Week 8 against Deposit-Hancock.
“We’ll get a good indication of how we stack up against the teams from the other end of Section IV because we play Unatego and Deposit-Hancock this season,” said Aiello. “We don’t usually see them. It’s kind of the nature of the beast now with fewer Class D schools, and how we matched up with the Class C schools.”
The Tigers were originally scheduled to open with five non-league games, then were to host Groton in Week 6, and finish with road games at Moravia and Greene. However, the schedule now has Tioga at Groton in Week 5, on the road at Greene and Moravia in Weeks 6 and 7, and finishing up at home against Deposit-Hancock.
“I like our schedule, it’s very competitive, and we’re in a very good division,” said Aiello. “I like our home games, I like our road games, and we have quite a few long trips. It will be nice to play on the turf at Greene.
“Our original schedule had us finishing up against Greene, and had us playing our three divisional games in the final three weeks,” noted Aiello. “I would have preferred to have the first five games to prepare us for our divisional games, but we’ll use the first four now, and take care of business.
“Greene returns a lot from last season, and almost all of their skill-position players,” added Aiello. “Playing them in final game of the regular season would have made for a very big game.”
Not only has Tioga won seven of the last eight Class D titles, but it has advanced to the state semifinals on all seven occasions, including a state title run in 2015.
“I think whoever comes out of Class D in Section IV this season can make a deep run into the State playoffs again,” said Aiello.
Part of the reason Tioga’s schedule includes a heavy dose of teams from the eastern portion of Section IV is the loss of four teams from Class D to 8-man football, and the lack of a program at Seton Catholic.
Aiello sees the merits of eight-man football.
“I’d rather see teams going to 8-man to keep their identities,” he said. ““The coaches I talk to really like the 8-man game. It’s fast and exciting, and allows the small schools to keep their identities.
“What 8-man allows is you to do is get athletes in space and showcase their skills,” noted Aiello. “In 11-man, you rely on the big bodies, and at small schools those big bodies are sometimes hard to come by.”
The flip side of 8-man football is small schools combining their programs, such as the Clymer / Sherman / Panama conglomeration that knocked the Tigers out of the state playoffs last fall.
“The others piece of that is that you have a lot of programs combining to keep the 11-man teams,” said Aiello.
“I think the State prefers the combined teams because it views it as saving programs, but I think they need to take a closer look at how they classify those combined programs,” he added. “I’m not sure their current formula is fair to everyone.”
2019 TIOGA TIGERS SCHEDULE
(All games begin at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted.)
Sept. 6 ….. vs. .. Walton
Sept. 13 … vs. .. Newark Valley
Sept. 20 … at … Bainbridge-Guilford
Sept. 27 … at … Unatego
Oct. 4 …… vs. .. Groton
Oct. 11 ….. at … Greene
Oct. 19 ….. at .… Moravia, 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 25 ….. vs. .. Deposit-Hancock
Nov. 1-2 … Section IV, Class D semifinals
Nov. 8-9 … Section IV, Class D championship
(All Home Games in bold.)
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