By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — Tioga rolled to a 55-14 win over Groton Friday night in its Division VI opener, and coach Nick Aiello is pleased to see what he and his staff have been stressing in practice come into play on the field Friday nights.
“When you get to the second half of the regular season, you’re looking to see those improvements in the little things you’ve been working on, and just trying to get better at what you’re doing,” he said. “I though that came out Friday night.
“Our approach all week was, ‘it’s must-win game, we’re in divisional games now’” he noted. “In terms of making the playoffs, these are the games that matter, that was our mentality.
“We talked about being 4-0, and that it’s a great place to be, but it didn’t really mean much.
“I thought the kids responded real well, and took the right attitude all last week.,” added Aiello. “They came out and did some really good things.”
Offensively, the Tigers came out strong with three rushing TDs by Emmett Wood in the first quarter, the first capping a lightning-quick 95-yard drive that featured a 65-yard dash by Wood.
“Emmett hit a couple long runs … it seemed like on every drive we had a big play somewhere in there,” said Aiello.
“We just wanted to continue with what our plan is, to mix it up as much as possible, instead of relying on a couple of plays,” noted Aiello. “It’s nice to be able to spread the ball around, stretch the field horizontally, and stretch it vertically when we can.”
Worthing completed 7 of 12 passes, including a trio of TDs. It could have been a much better night for the senior signal-caller, but his receivers dropped four very catchable passes.
“Brady did a nice job throwing the ball Friday night, putting the ball right where it needed to be,” said Aiello. “Those are the things in practice we stress — we don’t want to see any dropped balls.
“Those guys know they need to make those catches, that’s just all there is to it,” added Aiello. “It’s a matter of focus, knowing how you practice carries over into games.”
Aiello said the offense is still improving each week.
“We’ve been working on kids understanding what their job is on certain formations and certain plays, and that’s the stuff that’s starting to come together.
“If we can keep plugging away, and keep fine-tuning, I think we’ll be fine offensively,” said Aiello.
In Aiello’s 10 years on the Tioga sidelines, his defense has had a propensity to give up yardage, and sometimes points on the opponents' initial drive, only to settle in and play well.
“I don’t know … I really have no explanation, but It seems like every game, we allow the other team to either score, or move deep into our territory, then we hunker down the rest of the game,” said Aiello.
“Funny thing is, we talk about starting fast and coming out of the gate hot,” noted Aiello.
“If we win the toss, we defer and give the other team the ball, but if we’re going to do that we need to start playing a little better defense to start the game,” laughed Aiello.
Friday night, Aiello believes it was a matter of his team being a little too amped up to start the game.
“I think Groton caught us off guard a little bit, going right to the pass,” he said. “I think we were geared up quite a bit, and our guys got caught with their eyes in the backfield and they put two passes together to put them right in the red zone.”
After Groton fumbled the ball away two plays later, Tioga raced out to a 49-8 lead, with Groton’s lone score coming at 21-0.
“We played pretty well (after the first possession),” said Aiello. “It was the third week in a row we’ve faced that style of offense, so I felt like our kids we’re pretty comfortable against it.
“It made game-planning not as intensive last week, so we were able to keep working on fundamentals and technique.
“We’re starting to see some good things from our defense, especially from our linebacking corps,” noted Aiello. “And, we’re starting to see some good things from our defensive linemen.
“Our secondary is still a work in progress, but they’re getting there,” he added. “This week coming up will definitely be a good test for them.”
Aiello notes senior Dom Wood is becoming a force for the Tigers on the defensive line.
“Dom Wood has been very good up front for us,” he said. “He’s a big, strong kid with a motor that doesn’t stop.
“We have to get some other kids playing like that all the time,” noted Aiello. “We have a bunch of kids doing kid things some of the time, or the majority of the time, but we’re getting to the point where it needs to be all the time.
“We also have a lot of two-way players, so we’re trying to get a god mix on the defensive line, so we can keep guys fresh as much as possible, and get guys playing full speed all the time,” he added.
Aiello believes the depth of this year’s team, which may be as deep as any Aiello’s coached at Tioga, can be attributed to having a JV team in 2017 and ’18.
“Having the JV team the last two years has proven to be very beneficial,” he said. “Even a lot of the sophomores we’re putting on the field had one year of JV last year.
“They’re better prepared for the varsity game, and that’s created a lot of depth for us.
“We feel comfortable with whoever we put out there, and what’s nice is guys are forcing us to put them on the field, and proving they deserve to be out there,” added Aiello. “Then, they’re getting the job done. It’s nice to have that depth.”
Despite a missed PAT kick — Worthing’s first of the year, Aiello was pleased with special teams play.
“It’s the first one he’s missed all year, so I don’t think we’ll worry about it too much,” said Aiello. “After that, he was bombing them again.
“I thought our kick-off coverage was good,” he noted. “Emmett (Wood) fielded a punt off the bounce, which was nice to see, but other than that we didn’t get much of a chance to return them.”
The highlight of the night for special teams was senior Mason Booser’s 75-yard kick return, immediately following Groton’s first score of the game.
“It was a line-drive kick, and sometimes it’s hard to get your return set up, but I thought the kids did a nice job getting to their blocks,” said Aiello. “And, (Mason) Booser found a seam and really showed his athleticism and speed on that run.
“It was nice to see,” added Aiello. “I’m hoping it was a confidence boost for him.”
The Tigers have scored four TDs — two ‘pick sixes’ and two kick returns — on defense and special teams this season.
“It’s not necessarily that we’re doing different things, it’s just the athleticism we’re putting out there,” said Aiello. “We have a few guys who can score in multiple ways. It definitely makes us dangerous in all three phases of the game, which is nice to have.”
GRADE: B+. “I think we’re getting there,” said Aiello. “We haven’t had our ‘A’ game yet.
“I saw some really good things in the first quarter from our line, some things we’ve been stressing, but we need to get them to carry that through for the entire game.
“These guys are listening, they’re working hard, and they’re taking it one week at a time,” added Aiello. “This has been a really fun group to be around. If they keep on working, and keep the mentality that they need to get better, they could really do some special things.”
IN PHOTO: Tioga coach Nick Aiello.
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