BY TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
WAVERLY — Longtime Waverly coach Jason Miller said weeks of preseason preparation paid off in a “very rewarding” win Friday night at Union-Endicott Friday night.
“This is a big win, it ranks up there for our program,” said Miller. “It’s doesn’t equate to winning a Sectional title, but it’s a big win.
“You want to get off on the right foot to start the year … there’s a lot of different ways a win in Week 1 helps beyond football.
“It’s very rewarding after all the work in the offseason,” added Miller. “Games like this are going to expose what you do good, and what you do bad. To come out on top is a great feeling.”
Miller’s teams have made a habit of very good performances in Week 1.
“The bottom line is I have a very good coaching staff, and football doesn’t start for us in August.
“If you look back at our history, our first games have been pretty good,” said Miller. “We’ve beaten some teams no one has expected us to, and a lot of that goes into our preparation.
“We’re not perfect, but typically the opening weekend is very, very good for us, going back many years,” he added. "I’m proud of the way our guys work in the offseason — in the weight room and conditioning. “
Miller’s offensive game plan was to establish a running game to keep the pressure off 8th-grade QB Joey Tomasso. Things didn’t go exactly as planned as the Wolverines managed just 54 rushing yards on 28 carries.
“We really struggled running the football for a couple of reasons,” said Miller. “Number one, they were massive up front and we had a hard time moving them.
“Secondly, they came out in a different defensive front, and we have four guys starting on the offensive line who haven’t played much,” noted Miller. “It was hard to adjust during the game, as far as run-blocking schemes … they had a 6-on-5 advantage in the box, and were a different alignment than we had worked against, so it made it difficult.”
Tomasso, who was just 2 of 9 in the first half, completed 11 of 18 passes in the second half, including a pair of fourth-quarter TDs to senior Jalen McCarthy.
“Our pass protection was excellent,” said Miller.
“Early on Joey (Tomasso) had some happy feet, was launching the ball, and flat out missing receivers for potential touchdowns. He settled down in the second half, got more comfortable, and played very well.
“He threw the ball well and made some great reads, especially on the touchdown to Jalen (McCarty); that was not where I intended on the ball going, but he saw it and I didn’t. He made a great thrown and Jalen made a great catch-and-run,” said Miller.
“It’s amazing,” continued Miller. “He has a long ways to go, but at the same time he’s ready. A lot of people questioned the fact: ‘How could an 8th-grader be ready for varsity football, regardless of the level of competition he’s playing against?” I’ve seen it all summer, he’s ready.
“Physically, we have to be concerned about him. We have to limit him in what he can do, there will never be a called run for him in this entire year.
“That’s different for us,” added Miller. “When you’re running the spread you need that extra guy, you need that extra blocker and that often means the quarterback runs, so we’re limiting ourselves there, but we’ll adjust with different packages.”
Miller was pleased with his team’s performance on defense.
“I think our defense was very solid throughout the evening. Even on their touchdowns, we had people in position, and their quarterback made great throws. We played hard for four quarters.
“You could see it in the fourth quarter, they were starting to wear us down,” said Miller. “They were running the football and starting to take control of the line-of-scrimmage. Fortunately, our second-level guys were able to step up and make some big tackles.”
Miller said modern-day limitations had him concerned about his defense heading into the game.
“I was really concerned going into the game about our tackling as every coach should be going into Week 1,"he said. “These days, we just can’t line-up and tee off on each other at practice.
“You don’t see hitting in the preseason anymore, you just can’t,” noted Miller. “We have good numbers, but you see some programs in the low-20s or mid-20s and none of us can hit live. Once upon a time when we played, we use to hit live all the time. We just don’t do that now.
“I thought we did a very good job tackling, especially the guys who are wrestlers, once they latched on to someone, they didn’t get away,” added Miller
Coaches will tell you a game is never determined by one play, but Waverly’s stop on U-E’s two-point conversion attempt with 2:38 left in the game to preserve a 23-22 lead comes close.
“That was a huge defensive stop,” said Miller. “Thomas Price slipped through and made a defensive stop in the backfield, and Hunter Rando, who played a really good game, was in on that play. That’s a lot of pressure there to make that play.”
Miller reflected on the game, and picked out several “one plays” that made a difference.
“I look at the entirety of the game, and there are a lot of those ‘one plays’ that have an impact on the game.
“Each one of three PATs, for example, are critical,” said Miller. “If we miss any one of those it could be a different outcome. It’s the little things ... Ethan Stotler being able to dig the ball off the carpet on two of those three snaps to get the ball on the tee for Alex (Gadow) to kick it made the difference in the game.
“Our blocking on PAT was good, but we did have some leakage on of the last PAT, where a kid blew right through on the inside, and somehow didn’t get a hand on the kick,” noted Miller. “We won by a point, and that kid almost blocked it. We need to clean up that stuff.
“There are so many ‘one plays’ in the game that I can look back on, and we were successful more than they were, and that’s why we won,” added Miller.
One area that has Miller worried is his punt return unit.
“The punt return is a concern,” he said. “We had two fumbles off our punt reception, and that also could have easily changed the outcome of the game.
“Our guys back there just need more practice and more live action,” noted Miller. “It’s something we need to concentrate on more. It’s a tough job. You have to have some courage to be back there.
“I thought our kick coverage was good,” he said. “And, I thought our punting was good, especially early in the game.
“Special teams were good, but can always get better,” added Miller.
GRADE: B+. “There are enough things to look at that we did well,” said Miller. “I liked the way we flew around. I liked the way we hit, and got after it. I think that was critical.
“I think our attitude was real good throughout the game,” he noted. “We got down and were able to come back. It’s exciting and I think it’s something to build on.
“It wasn’t perfect. U-E was able expose where we have some weaknesses, and that’s what we’re going to focus on this week,” added Miller. “This is week where you make the greatest improvement — from Week 1 to Week 2, and that's why first games like this are crucial.”
Speaking of Week 2, the Wolverines play host to Johnson City Friday night in their home opener.
“The one factor we have to work on right now is understanding Week 1 is over, and it’s time to get back to work,” he said. “This is a relatively young team that has a mixture of experienced guys in it. The message has to be pounded to everyone that this is a different week.
We’ve been in this situation before, where we’ve won in Week 1, and laid an egg in Week 2,” added Miller. “My biggest fear right now is making sure these kids know that Johnson City doesn’t care that we beat U-E.”
IN PHOTO 1: Waverly coach Jason Miller. … PHOTOS COURTESY OF SHANNON McCARTY.
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