By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — Tioga football coach Nick Aiello has suffered a few tough losses in the state semifinals, but Friday’s 28-27 loss to defending state champ Clymer / Sherman / Panama may rank as the toughest.
The Tigers rolled out to a 27-13 halftime lead, but — thanks in part to an injury to sophomore standout Emmett Wood — couldn’t hold on.
“This one stings quite a bit, because it’s a game where we could have easily come out on top,” said Aiello.
“It’s tough, a couple things here and there swung the momentum, and we never really recovered. Hats off to (CSP), they were able to make plays when they needed to, to finish their comeback.
“When you watch the film, like I said Friday night, it was a game of two halves. Things were really clicking for us in the first half,” noted Aiello.
“We didn’t start the second half off all that bad, but after they converted on that 3rd-and-20 was when the game flipped into their favor. From there on out, we weren’t able to muster up any offense, and they were able to score two touchdowns to take the lead.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow, but we knew going in it was going to be a tough game,” added Aiello. “I thought the kids played really hard, and fought the whole time. It’s just too bad we wouldn’t come out on top.”
Wood ran for 171 of his 208 yards and all three of his TDs in the first half, before being injured midway through the third quarter. His loss was obvious on offense, but Aiello notes it was just as big of a loss on defense.
“Losing Emmett (Wood) on defense definitely hurt us.
“The speed he gives us on defense can’t be replaced,” said Aiello. “And, he took about 98 percent of the reps in practice that week in a very extensive game plan, so not only losing his skill set, but he was one the guys we got ready to play in the game.”
The Tigers ran the ball for 362 yards, but only 71 came after the intermission.
“We were getting off the ball really well in the first half, and we were executing plays that we had been working on,” said Aiello. “We changed some blocking schemes on certain plays, and I thought they worked really well.
“Emmett and Brady were able to take advantage of some small, but open lanes and rip off some big runs for us; that definitely gave us the momentum in the first half.
“Of course, recovering that onside kick after our first score, and going right down and scoring, that was big as well,” noted Aiello.
“In the second half, (CSP) made one big adjustment when they moved (Cameron Barrmore) inside (to tackle from defensive end) to work against our midline (option), but for the most part I thought it was more (Brendon Ramsey) filling really hard against plays that were working for us in the first half. He really started to fill and blow some of those plays up,” continued Aiello.
“Early on in the second half, we were moving the ball OK, but after they scored their third TD and the momentum switched, it seemed like we always did something that put us behind, whether it be dropping the ball or getting an illegal procedure penalty, or whatever.
“We didn’t help our cause after (CSP) scored their third touchdown,” Aiello added.
Despite giving up 424 yards in total offense, and 28 points, Aiello was pleased with his team’s defensive effort against the high-octane Wolfpack offense.
“I thought the mental part (on defense) was tremendous,” he said. “It was a different type of game plan than what the kids were use to, and I thought all week long as things progressed, they seemed to get more comfortable with the game plan, and understand their job in it.
“I thought the kids came out and executed the game plan really well,” noted Aiello. “Even though CSP scored on their first drive, I thought throughout the game, the kids continued to make plays. We forced them to turn the ball over on downs several times.”
Ultimately, Aiello said the defense’s goal was simple.
“Our goal was to hold them to three touchdowns … we thought if we could hold them to three touchdowns, we really had a chance of winning, but they were able to score four.
“We knew (holding them to three TDs) was a tall task, too,” said Aiello. “We could have flopped on our face with that game plan, but the kids executed really, really well against a lot of really good athletes.
“We had a lot of young kids out there, too. We were putting a lot of pressure on those kids and they stepped up.
“And, our defensive line played well … we took one defensive lineman out to add an extra defensive back, and I thought the three guys out there played very hard all game.,” noted Aiello. “They did OK against the run, and applied pressure (on the QB) with just those three guys.
“I was pleased with our defense, and our defensive game plan, but we gave up four touchdowns, and ultimately that’s what did us in,” he added.
Aiello said the special teams also executed its game plan, which included onside and squib kicks for the entirety of the game, which gave CSP field position near midfield on every possession.
“Their one return guy (John Swabik) is a state champ in the heptathlon, and the other (Zavon Overton) is just dynamite; he had a punt return (for a score) the week before,” said Aiello. “And, with our defensive game plan, we didn’t want to cover a whole lot of field, so we went in thinking if we gave them the short field, it was really wasn’t a bad thing.
“I thought special-teams wise, we did a lot of good things.
“We punted the ball well into the wind,” noted Aiello. “They only returned one punt, and we forced a fair catch on another by putting some good hang time on it.
“On kickoffs, we recovered one onside kick. There was only one squib kick that we ended up firing right at someone, and he made a nice catch — it could have easily bounced off him.
“I always say field position matters in big games,” he said. “I don’t know that we won the field-position battle, but I don’t think we lost it either because we knew what our plan was going in.
“The one big negative is we missed an extra point,” added Aiello. “When you lose by a point, that’s the point that could have sent us into OT. That was the only blunder and it ended up costing us.”
GRADE: A-. “The guys did everything we asked of them. They executed on both sides of the ball, in terms of game plan,” said Aiello. “We threw a lot different things at them this week. They knew it was a big week, and they came out fired up.
“In the end, we ended up losing by 1 point, and chances are we lost by 1 point to the state champ,” added Aiello. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but at the end of the day, you’re always proud of your kids’ effort when they play like that.”
IN PHOTO: Tioga coach Nick Aiello.
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