BY TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA — Tioga’s victory Friday over Walton, a team many pundits chose to unseat the Tigers atop the Section IV, Class D hierarchy, is a confidence-builder for players and coaches alike, said Tiger mentor Nick Aiello.
“For the players, this was a good game to build their confidence, to get them to trust themselves, and each other.
“I think you can say the same thing for the coaches,” said Aiello. “After we watched the films on Saturday, we had a lot of good surprises on how well our question marks played.
“Some guys really stepped it up, whether it be a new guy, or a senior out there who didn’t play much as a junior, and really stepped us as well,” he added. “It was nice to see, and is definitely a confidence boost moving forward.”
Thanks to Walton’s ground-and-pound offense, and an 87-yard kick return for a score by sophomore Emmett Wood, Tioga only ran 14 offensive plays in the first half. Aiello said Walton’s game of keep away had an impact on the Tigers, but not in the way you might think.
“It effected us at halftime because there wasn’t much we could talk about,” said Aiello. “We only ran 14 plays before the half, so there wasn’t much conversation about what they were doing against us, or what adjustments we needed to make because we didn’t have a feel for it yet.
“I think it hurt us in our first couple series of the second half because they started stopping certain things that were working for us in the first half,” noted Aiello.
“In terms of play-calling it hurt because we weren’t able to get into any rhythm, but at the same time it kind of forced our hands in trying to open up our playbook in the second half, especially once we were behind,” added Aiello. “We were trying to get the ball into our playmakers’ hands, and hoping for the big play, which we got.”
The Tigers only managed 194 yards in total offense against Walton’s defense, but 45 percent of it came in their 87-yard, five-play game-winning scoring drive late in the fourth quarter. Senior Brady Worthing, who had 22 yards on his first seven carries, ripped off runs of 50 and 19 yards in the drive.
“Both of Brady’s runs were set up by plays earlier in the game,” said Aiello. “They were two formations we ran some plays out of earlier and saw that a couple of different plays were there.
“On the first big run by Brady, we had run a sweep out of that formation earlier on. We came back and ran a speed option out of it instead.
“The other play we had run early on in the game, and we really thought if Brady got to the edge it could be big play for us,” added Aiello. “He and Emmett (Wood) just carried out a beautiful fake. Brady was able to get to the edge that way, and it turned into a huge run for us.”
The Tigers nearly scored too fast as Emmett Wood covered the 10 yards for the go-ahead score with 2 minutes left in the contest, finishing off a drive that took just one minute and 44 seconds.
“We would have loved for him to score obviously, but when Brady got tackled on the second long run, we felt at least we’d be able to run some more clock,” said Aiello. “Then again, we were also concerned about punching it in. It just worked out for us.”
Aiello said the feedback he heard on his defense after the game was negative, but he believes they played well all things considered.
“After talking to a few guys (Saturday) night, you would have thought our defense was a pile of swiss cheese. I really thought for going against Walton for 69 plays, and holding them to 20 points, we played good enough on defense, especially for a first game against a team that can really pound the ball on you
“There were times we couldn’t get off the field on third and fourth down, but when we needed to get stops, we got the stops we needed, especially at the end of the game inside the 20 on fourth down," said Aiello.
“I was pleased with the way we played defense. I was pleased with the way we were flying around. Our tackling was pretty good, but it could be better.
“They only had one real long run. Other than that, we were able to keep their run-game in check enough, but they were definitely able to go on some drives,” Aiello added.
Aiello said the Tigers received strong performances from a pair of unknown commodities on defense.
“I thought Sloan Manuel definitely showed us what we needed to see,” said Aiello. “We pointed out a lot of good things he did, but we also pointed out some things he can do better. The fact that he’s only a junior, and it was the first game he’s played in two years, it was nice to see him get after it. As the game went on, you could see him getting more comfortable. We were real proud of the way he played.
“Having to fold the JV team, we’ve been able to take a look at a lot of the sophomores, which we think is a pretty talented group,” noted Aiello. “Gavin Godfrey, in his first varsity game, played excellent. It was a big game, big crowd, a lot of noise, and I thought (Godfrey) handled himself real well. He had some very good solo tackles, we saw a lot of good stuff out of him.
“We’re taking a look at some other sophomores that we can put on the field and really help us out.
Aiello said a pair of veterans also turned in strong performances.
“Emmett is really flying around,” he said. “He’s clearly a better player than he was last year, with a year of experience under his belt. It appears the game has slowed down for him. He’s flying around at a different speed than we saw from him last year.
“David MacWhinnie was one of the real nice surprises for us Friday night,” added Aiello. “Much like Sloan (Manuel), I hope he understands he played really well for us, and if keeps improving at the little things, he could be a very, very good player for us.”
Perhaps the best game of the night defensively was played by senior cornerback Mason Booser, who returned his first pick 65 yards to set up a field, and then sealed the win with his second interception in the closing seconds.
“Booser needs to understand he’s a good football player, and that he can make those plays,” said Aiello. “He needs to understand that we need him to make those plays, and to be a stud for us out there.
“I was really glad to see him get those interceptions,” he noted. “I hope it was a confidence boost for him, just knowing he can make those plays. He’s a big piece to our defense, and he needs to play that way all the time.
“I also thought that was one of his best games tackling, he made some big hits, and really nice tackles,” added Aiello.
Special teams were a mixed bag for the Tigers. It made plays that were instrumental in winning the game, but also made mistakes that could have altered the outcome.
“Special teams was big for us Friday night — big in a positive way, and big in a negative way,” said Aiello.
“Emmett’s kick return was huge. It put the momentum on our side, right after they had scored their first touchdown,” he noted. “And, Brady (Worthing) had the big field goal at the end of the game, which put us ahead temporarily, and we ended up winning by three.
“On the flip side, we had a bad snap on a punt that set up their first score of the second half,” he continued. “After their third score, we botched the onside kick, and they almost drove down and scored again. Luckily, we got the stop and went on our winning drive.
“Special teams is big in terms of momentum swings,” added Aiello. “We’ll work on a few things this week.”
GRADE: B. “Really, it would be an ‘A’ for effort, not just during the game, but all preseason long to get ready for it. I thought we were in good shape, and I though we played hard all four quarters,” said Aiello.
“When it came to certain things, we still have a long ways to go offensively, defensively, and on special teams.
“It was good to start off with a win, it’s been a few years,” added Aiello.
IN PHOTO 1: Tioga coach Nick Aiello. ... PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.
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