By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
VESTAL — Friday night’s Class D title game clash will pit the two most dominant Section IV Small School programs since the inception of the New York State playoff system in 1993.
Kick-off is 7 p.m. tonight at Johnson City High School.
Walton and Tioga have each won seven Section IV titles. They trail only Chenango Forks, which has 17 Section IV titles, Union-Endicott (13) and Maine-Endwell (8).
Walton dominated in the early years. The Warriors won a Class C title in 1994 and went on to win the state title. They also won Class C titles in 1997, 2000, and 2004, before moving down to Class D, where it won a state title in 2007, then won Section IV titles in 2008 and 2010.
In 2011, Tioga seized the Class D torch with a 19-18 win over Walton in the championship game. It was the beginning of a five-year run for the Tigers, culminating with a state title in 2015. After an off year in 2016, Tioga has won back-to-back Class D titles for seven in the last eight years. The Tigers have advanced to the state semifinals in each of the seven years.
Prior to the state playoff system, Section IV had a bowl game in each classification. In the “Bowl Era,” Walton won seven Class C bowl games, including six in a row from 1986-91, while Tioga won the Class C bowl game in 1980 and ’81, and Bowl V in 1982.
Since the 2011 win in the Class D title game, Tioga and Walton have met three times in the postseason, with the Tigers prevailing in all three.
In 2012, Tioga opened defense of its first Section IV title with a 33-8 win over Walton the Class D quarterfinals. In 2015, Tioga won 47-22 in the quarterfinals.
Last year, Tioga blanked Walton, 35-0, in the semifinals.
In Week 1 of this season, Tioga edged Walton 23-20 in a rare regular-season meeting.
“In Week 1, we had a lot of first-timers on the field,” said Tioga coach Nick Aiello. “All of our linebackers were new at the position, and we were rotating a lot of defensive linemen — guys who hadn’t played varsity football in a while. We were also starting a sophomore in the secondary.
“We had quite a few kids on defense who were brand new.
“Offensively, we were still putting together a line that the year before was pretty solid, so we had some big shoes to fill,” noted Aiello.
“I really think we’ve improved over the course of the season. The kids now have nine games under their belts going into a big game,” added Aiello. “They are use to the routine, too — what it takes to prepare, what it takes to get ready for a team, what it takes to show up on game day ready to go, and play tough and physical.”
Aiello said his Tigers were a young team at the outset of the 2019 season.
“It took us a while to get there. When you sit at 9-0 some people might not believe that, but it was really a process this year to get these guys playing football the way they need to.
“I’m excited for the challenge,” said Aiello. “Whenever you play Walton it’s a nerve-wracking week because you’re trying to get your kids as prepared as possible.
“You know it’s going to be a chess match, but at the end of the day it’s also comforting to know it really just comes down to fundamentals, and that’s what we’re going to stress all week. It’s going to come down to blocking and tackling.
“You have two teams that pride themselves on very similar things,” added Aiello. “The team that takes care of the football, gets off the ball on offense and defense, and blocks and tackles the best is going to win.”
Since its win over Walton in the 2011 title game, the closest game the Tigers have had in the finals was a 63-42 win over Sidney in 2017.
Aiello agrees this might be the toughest test his program has faced in the finals since 2011.
“I think it is, in the fact that our styles are so similar, and we know each other pretty well.
“We beat Walton by three points in Week 1, and we happen to be the No. 1-ranked team in the State, but really that means nothing going into this game,” said Aiello.
“Anyone who was at our first game (against Walton) knows that game could have gone either way,” noted Aiello. “Walton beat us in ever single category except the scoreboard. I don’t know if you want to call it luck, or just say we made plays when we needed to, or made stops when we needed them, but we ended up with the W.
“Going into Week 10, Week 1 makes no difference at all,” added Aiello. “We’re both playing good football, and it’s going to be a heck of a good football game.”
WHEN WALTON HAS THE BALL
In their first meeting, Walton amassed 399 total yards, including 322 on the ground. Senior Skylar Pesout led the way with 127 yards and one TD on 24 carries,
“It’s going to be typical Walton,” said Walton. “They’re going to look to pound the ball on us, and grind it out and go on drives.
“They have quite a stable of athleticism this year,” noted Aiello. “They try to use motion and different formations to get you a little bit out of position to set up the plays they want to run.
“Their quarterback (Dylan Jacob) has a hell of an arm and can chuck it downfield. He has a nice receiver in (Morgan Condon), and he has a nice tight end in (Cody Ray), who catches the ball well.
“Offensively, they have it going on,” added Aiello. “They’ve been able to run their system they’ve run for many years, and you can tell they’re pretty comfortable in it.”
THE KEY FOR TIOGA ON DEFENSE
“The key for us will be alignment and tackling,” said Aiello. “(Walton) does a lot of good things with their linemen, whether it’s trapping or cross-blocking.
“It’s a mater of us taking 13 weeks of football, putting it all together, and playing with good technique and fundamentals,” he noted. “The biggest thing is tackling, and not allowing for yards after contact.
“The other thing that hurts us in the first game is we didn’t get off the field on third- and fourth-downs,” continued Aiello. “We’ve been stressing that a lot this week because that’s huge. They want to keep converting on third-and fourth downs, and four-down territory for them starts anywhere near the 50.
“We have to be able to stop them for four downs and get off the field,” added Aiello.
WHEN WALTON IS ON DEFENSE
Tioga sophomore Emmett Wood has rushed for 1,611 yards (11.1 yards per carry) and 29 TDs on 145 carries this season, but was limited to 87 yards and two TDs on 16 carries against Walton in Week 1. He also returned a kick for a score.
Senior QB Brady Worthing has rushed for 555 yards (10.1 yard per carry) and five TDs on 55 carries, and has completed 47.3 percent of his passes for 521 yards, eight TDs, and two interceptions. Worthing led Tioga with 91 yards on nine carries in the first meeting with Walton.
“Defensively, they bring a lot of pressure,” said Aiello. “They’ll look to set the edge with their defensive ends.
“They key a lot on defense, too,” noted Aiello. “They tend to stay in man-to-man coverage, and guys in the interior will key your backs, and that’s how they’re able to flow to the ball so well. They try to force you into certain running lanes.
“The biggest thing will be to match their intensity up front,” he added. “We need to get off the ball, and not allow them to penetrate into the backfield and put a lot of stress on our backs.”
TIOGA KEY ON OFFENSE
“The key is blocking,” said Aiello. “When you go back to the first game, a lot of time it came down to one missed block, and (Walton) was able to get so many hats to the ball to bring that pressure.
“We have to get on our blocks, sustain those blocks, and match their physicality up front,” he added.
IN PHOTO: Tioga’s Emmett Wood.
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