Valley Sports Report
OWEGO — They've felt each other out on the scrimmage field for years and on Saturday evening they put it to the true test. In the end, Tioga battled its way past Owego for a 21-12 Section IV Football Conference victory here.

Even though the Tigers led for more than three quarters, the victory wasn't secured until Tioga defensive end Matt Watson stepped in front of a Nick Wasyln pass at his own 43-yard line with less than three minutes to play. From there, the Tiger offense worked the clock for the final five plays.

"Defense played really, really well tonight; really happy with that," Tioga coach Nick Aiello said. "It was a little tweak to some different things we were doing in terms of game plan and the kids responded real well."

The last-minute loss of running back Cam Bundy to COVID-19 quarantine, and backup RB Travis Raynor to an injury last week, clearly affected the way Owego operated on offense.

"They're our top two runners," Owego coach Steve Virkler said. "It certainly hurt us offensively. We struggled bad offensively to move the ball on the ground. We had some opportunities in the air that we didn't take advantage of."

Bundy, who was coming off a 150-yard performance the previous week is also the team's defensive anchor at linebacker.

Injuries also cost the Indians Josh Terry, who had one of his best games on defense the previous week, in the second quarter and Brandon Worzel in the third period.

"We were scrambling," Virkler said. "We had a lot of guys step up and get some good football experience against a very good football team."

It was anyone's game to win up until the interception, even after Tioga built a 9-point advantage on Gavin Godfrey's 1-yard plunge and Gavin Fisher's PAT kick with 4:50 remaining in the game.

Emmett Wood's 52-yard run set up the final TD and gave the Tigers a little breathing room. Tioga's game plan revolved around the junior workhorse, who hauled the rock 34 times for 258 yards on the night.

"He's a really good football player," Virkler said. "I think he's got a bright future in front of him and I think he's just as impressive defensively as he is offensively."

Aiello knew his star runner, and the rest of the team, would need to rise to the occasion.

"They're huge, and I think I heard 22 seniors," he said. "They're just huge up front and so we knew it would be a challenge. We knew we would have to keep it outside. We didn't want to try and pound it up through the middle, just because there wasn't much there all night ... so we tried to go inside them, outside them a little bit and just find some plays that were working in the second half."

Despite trailing, 21-12, heading into the final minutes, Owego was not about to go down without a fight. The Indians were moving the ball on the ensuing possession, despite a sack by the Tigers' Chris Walsh, as Mason Wills turned a short pass into a 24-yard gain. The junior wide receiver shook off two would-be tacklers to move the pigskin into Tioga territory, but three plays later Watson grabbed the interception.

The Indians moved the ball into Tioga territory on the game's opening possession, but sputtered and Jayden Ripic punted it down to the 18. The Tigers turned it into an 82-yard touchdown drive with Wood scoring on a 15-yard run. Fisher's PAT kick, which hit the left upright, made a successful counter-clockwise spin to give the visitors a 7-0 lead with 5:21 left in the period.

Ethan Agan passes to Ethan Perry and Seth Franks for 15 and 17 yards, respectively, were keys in the drive.

Tioga shot itself in the foot on its next two possessions, but managed to cling to a 7-6 edge at the break.

The first miscue occurred as Ripic came up with a pick six near midfield with 9:35 left in the half. The PAT pass was unsuccessful, leaving Tioga with a one-point lead.

The second came when Wyatt Gunther pounced on an Agan fumble at the Owego 26 with a little over three minutes on the clock. Key defensive plays by Godfrey and Isaac Peterson put the Indians into a three-and-out situation. Ripic boomed a 41-yard punt, and nice defensive plays by Spencer Mead and Tom Mendelis forced a Tioga a three-and-out.

Godfrey tipped away a pass intended for Zach Miner in the final moments of the half which could have led to points.

The Tigers avoided potential disaster at the start of the second half when Evan Hubbard jumped on a teammate's mishandled kickoff. Then, after both teams exchanged punts, Tioga put together a 71-yard TD drive that ended in a pair of controversial calls.

Wood appeared to fumble into the end zone as he reached for the goal line, but the officials ruled him down at the one. Godfrey scored on the next play and Fisher's PAT kick made it 14-6 with 3:30 left in the third quarter.

Following an exchange of possessions, Wasyln hit Miner over the middle for a 56-yard TD strike, but the PAT pass failed and the Tigers walked away with a 14-12 lead.

Big defensive plays by Mead and Mendelis forced Tioga into a punting situation on its next possession, but the Indians jumped offside. With the penalty coming on fourth-and-five (and a few inches), the Tigers opted to go for it and Agan picked up a fresh set of downs on the keeper.

"We gave them that opportunity," Virkler said. "We got them in fourth-an d-six and basically gave them the first down. That's on us. We've got to be better in that situation. The ball's on their own 40-yard line. They're not going to run that. We've got to know the situation, which we talked about, and we can't jump offsides there. That's a mistake that shouldn't happen. And if it doesn't, who knows what happens. It's a 14-12 ball game and we're getting the ball back, probably on our own 30- or 40-yard line."

Three plays later, Wood broke free on the 52-yard run, but Miner had the angle and caught up to him and Wood fumbled into the end zone. The ball was spotted at the one, setting up Godfrey's second TD of the night.

"We talked through some stuff at halftime, but really it came down to working through some adversity," Aiello said. "Penalties, and a fumble when we were driving. Little things like that kind of set us back and we lost the momentum.

"I'll have to check the film on that five yards. Going for it on fourth down and getting it really put the momentum back on our side. Obviously, Emmett busting that one long run at the end of the night, getting us (set up) for that last score was big."

The Tigers rolled up 340 yards offense with 308 coming on the ground. Godfrey added 33 yards on nine carries, and Franks, Perry, Cobe Whitmore, Peterson and Agan combined for the remaining 17.

Owego, minus the services of running backs/linebackers Cam Bundy and Travis Raynor, struggled to get its ground game going, rushing for eight yards on 12 carries.

Wasyln went 6-for-19 through the air for 99 yards. Miner and Wills had three receptions apiece for 73 and 26 yards, respectively.

"Defense had a great night," Aiello said. "They're a totally different ball club with Bundy in the backfield and it's too bad he didn't play. I would have much rather have played them at full strength with him in the backfield to see what our defense could do against a back like that."

Tioga (3-0) is slated to play Groton Saturday evening at Owego, but that game may be moved to Friday night at Tioga. Owego (1-2) visits Newark Valley (2-1) Saturday at 1:30 p.m.