By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — Tioga coach Nick Aiello was impressed with the way his team was able to overcome three first-half turnovers to post an impressive 41-20 win over Delhi Saturday afternoon in semifinals of the Section IV, Class B playoffs.
“The focus they had was impressive,” said Aiello. “Even though we had three turnovers, the kids had a short memory and were able to handle that early adversity.
“That’s what you look for out of your boys,” he noted. “How will they respond when things aren’t going well — will they step it up, or will they hang their head? I thought we did an excellent job of handling adversity.”
The Tigers turned the ball over on their first two possessions and trailed 6-0 at the end of the first quarter — the first time this season they hadn’t scored in the first quarter.
“If anything, I thought the kids did a good job of not letting the turnovers bother them,” said Aiello.
“We got behind on our first drive because we put the ball on the ground twice and recovered it, then the pick on the screen pass, I’ll take the blame for that.
“The second fumble was just a matter of poor execution on an option pitch and bad pitch relationship,” noted Aiello. “The other fumble was just about ball security.
“I’m not going to dwell on it, but those are little things we’ll point out, and they’re things we stress all the time at practice,” he added. “If anything, it will make the drill work we do this week even more important, and hopefully the kids focus up on those little things.”
Once Tioga settled down, it churned out 388 yards on the ground.
“I thought, for the most part, the kids did a really good job up front,” said Aiello. “(Delhi) was really loading the box more than we anticipated. Our guys were prepared, and were communicating and executing up front.
“I thought Emmett (Wood) ran real hard. I didn’t realize that we gave him the ball that much until after the game when I look at the stats — another game with more than 30 carries,” noted Aiello. “In the first half, I did feel like we were relying on him a little bit too much. At halftime, we talked about different plays so we could start mixing it up a little bit more.
“I’m glad we were able to do that in the second half, get Brady (Worthing) involved a little bit more, and get our fullbacks involved a little bit more. I think that balance in the second half helped,” said Aiello, who pointed out the play of junior Sloan Manuel and senior David MacWhinnie.
“We just keep rotating Sloan (Manuel) and David MacWhinnie at fullback,” added Aiello. “They both run hard, they both run well, and they are both blocking well for us. They both do a lot of good things for us.”
Wood ran for a career-high 275 yards and six TDs on 31 carries in the win. He also returned a punt 74 yards to set up a score, and returned an interception 66 yards to set up another.
“There’s no doubt Emmett (Wood) is a player, and he’s still learning — that’s the great thing about it,” said Aiello.
“He brings such natural ability to the field, and there are so many little things we keep tuning him up on. A lot of what he does is natural instinct, being an athlete and being a football player,” noted Aiello. “A lot of it is also him being a tough kid — mentally and physically.
“The fact he’s only a sophomore with the way he carries himself is pretty impressive, and the fact we can lean on him in big games and he takes it in stride is impressive as well,” added Aiello. “He’s having a heck of a year for us.”
Tioga’s passing game, however, struggled with Worthing completing just 1 of 6 attempts of 18 yards.
“The wind was odd,” said Aiello. “It always seemed to blowing in our face, and it was cold and the ball gets a little slick when it’s cold. All those things can factor in.
“And, we never really got him in rhythm. We were throwing every once in a while early, instead of getting him into a rhythm and that’s when he does best.
“Plus, Delhi is athletic,” added Aiello. “The window you’re throwing to gets smaller and smaller against good teams. We talked last week about how we’d have to be able to catch in traffic, and throw in traffic because people aren’t going to be wide-open.”
Defensively, the Tigers’ first-team held a Delhi team that was averaging 36 points per game to just 12 points through three quarters, before subbing out of the game.
“After committing three turnovers, and with our defense having its back against the wall for most of the first half, we were fortunate to have the lead,” said Aiello. “I was real happy with how we played defense, especially in the first half, and then throughout the remainder of the game.
“I thought the kids did a really good job against a high-powered offense,” he noted. “That team was scoring 50 points a game early in the season. They dropped a lot of points on some quality teams, so going in we were real concerned with their big-play potential.
“I thought it was a really good practice week, and having that extra day helped. I thought the kids really picked up on the different formations (Delhi) ran and their roles on defense,” Aiello continued. “I thought that’s what came out Saturday, especially in the second half — kids really doing their job and executing the game plan like we worked on all week.
“I was glad to see that type of focus now that playoff football is here,” he added.
Aiello said special teams played a big part in the win.
“In general, I was pleased with our special teams because I felt we won that phase of the game. I thought it was an advantage for us, and really that’s what you’re looking for in big games.
“When you win special teams it can help you in so many ways, whether it’s momentum or field position, or by creating a big play,” said Aiello. “In the second half, I thought we won the field-position battle as well.
“I was a little disappointed in our extra-point stuff, but our kickoff coverage was good, and (Delhi) has some good returners.
“Obviously, the punt return was huge,” he added.
GRADE: A. “It was a great week of preparation, and it was what we needed to see out of the guys now that it’s playoff time.
“I was extremely pleased to see how our kids were able to handle adversity in the early going,” said Aiello.
IN PHOTO: Nick Aiello.
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