NEW YORK STATE FOOTBALL: STATE QUARTERFINALS FAMILIAR TERRITORY FOR TIOGA (2021-11-19)
BY TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER "” Tioga "hosts" unbeaten Dolgeville tonight in the New York State Class D quarter-finals, which is familiar territory for the Tigers.
Tioga, 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state, has won nine of the last 10 Section IV, Class D championships. The vast majority of Tioga's 10 senior played prominent roles in its last trip to this round in 2019.
"(That experience) brings a sense of knowing what to expect, and a certain comfort level with playing at this point in the season," said Tioga coach Nick Aiello.
"Another piece of that is our seniors," he noted. "I've been talking all year long about how they set the tone, they definitely set the tone this week, continuing to be hungry, and continuing that mentality of being 1-0 this week.
"It's been a good week of practice, and a good week of preparation," added Aiello.
The Tigers beat Section III champ Frankfort-Schuyler, 43-20, in the state quarterfinals in 2019, then lost 28-27 to defending and eventual repeat state champions Clymer / Sherman / Panama in the semifinals. Aiello believes this team has some "unfinished business" after that loss.
"There's kind of a different drive with these guys. It's tough to explain, I think of our teams in the past were all motivated in one way, shape or form, but this year, these guys bring a different attitude to the field.
"It seems different. It seems like there is unfinished business," said Aiello. "They are really hungry, they know where they want to be, and they know what they have to do."
Tioga entered last week's Section IV title game with just one game "” a 27-14 win over Watkins Glen / O-M - decided by less than 31 points. The Tigers found themselves in a 14-14 tie at the half, before blowing out arch-rival Newark Valley in the second half for a 48-20 win.
"That (game) was good for us," said Aiello.
"I thought we did a good job all week of setting the tone for forgetting about the first time we played them," he said. "We did a good job of getting our guys to understand we were going to be in a dogfight, and that Newark Valley wants nothing more than beating Tioga on the football field.
"We knew Newark Valley was going to be ready, and they were. We knew they were going to play us hard, and they did.
"I thought our kids mentality was very good," said Aiello. "Going in at halftime tied, there was no fear or frustration, it was more like, "˜hey this is the type of game we expected. This is what we need to do to win it in the second half."
"It was a really good game for us. I thought the kids were mentally tough," added Aiello. "We didn't necessarily have to handle adversity, but I thought we played a really, really good game against an opponent we knew would be really prepared for us."
Aiello has a great deal of respect for the storied Dolgeville program, which enters tonight's game at 10-0 and ranked 5th in the state.
"(Dolgeville) is a traditionally strong program in Section III. I think they have 18 Section titles.
"The thing I noticed is their coaching staff has experience at this level," he said. "If you look back at the games we've had with them, it seems like what they're teaching their kids, and how they're getting to play at a certain level is definitely at a higher level.
"They're coming in undefeated for a reason," added Aiello.
WHEN TIOGA HAS THE BALL
The Tigers average 48.7 points per game, while the Blue Devils allow just 7.9 points per game.
Tioga averages 455.3 yards per game, including 367.1 yards per game, and 11.2 yards per carry on the ground.
Senior Emmett Wood, who averages 13.7 yards per carry, leads the Tigers with 1,440 yards and 24 TDs, while senior fullback Gavin Godfrey has 691 yards and seven TDs, and is coming off a 189-yard performance against Newark Valley on just 11 carries.
Sophomore QB Caden Bellis is a major dual-threat quarterback. He has completed 30 of 54 pass attempts (56 percent) for 794 yards and 12 TDs without being intercepted. He's also run for 576 yard and nine TDs on just 47 carries.
The Blue Devils have been very stingy against the run this season. They allowed just 21 rushing yards (on 29 carries) in a 20-6 win over previously-unbeaten Adirondack in last weekend's Section III title clash.
"What sticks out to me about this Dolgeville team is their defense," said Aiello. "They really look to get after it on defense, and they put a lot of their more aggressive guys on the D-line. They are like a plow blade up there, and really pave the way for their linebackers and secondary to run around and make tackles.
"They are primarily in a five-man front, and they do some different things.
"They play with two linebackers, and play a lot of man coverage," noted Aiello. "What that allows them to do up front is pin their ears back and go.
"They are very, very aggressive," added Aiello. "We expect them to continue that mentality, and try to use their size advantage to win the game up front."
WHEN DOLGEVILLE HAS THE BALL
Dolgeville averages 39.6 points per game, while Tioga allows just 9.2 points per game.
The Blue Devils average nearly 300 rushing yards per game, led by Jared Blinski's 1,182 yards and 15 TDs on 119 carries, which is a 9.9 yard per carry clip. Connor Morse has 855 yards and eight TDs, and QB Greg Gonyea has 567 yards and six TDs on just 47 carries.
Gonyea Jr. has completed 44 percent (19 of 44) of his passes for 440 yards, and eight TDs. Kamryn Comstock is his top target with nine receptions for 204 yards and four TDs.
"They have a very similar mentality to us," said Aiello. "It's kind of like looking in a mirror to a certain agree. They use a lot of power running sets.
"They have a running back (Blinski), they move around quite a bit," noted Aiello. "He plays mostly tailback, but they will move him to fullback - he looks like a tough kid to tackle, he breaks a lot of tackles and doesn't go down easy.
"They also have a couple of other good backs they mix in quite a bit.
"To me, though, their quarterback (Gonyea Jr.) is their best athlete," said Aiello. "He can rip off some long runs off their option game.
"It been important for us to prepare for all aspects of their offense," he added. "It will be interesting to see what they come out in, and run against us."
Tioga is 8-0 against Section III champs in the state quarterfinals since its run began in 2011. Two of those wins came against Dolgeville - 46-22 in 2014 and 46-16 in 2017, and their average score of victory has been 49 to 16, but Aiello says those stats are irrelevant in terms of tonight's contest.
"This is the state quarterfinals," he said. "The kids need to understand past results have no bearing on this game. (Dolgeville) is 10-0 for a reason, and they want to win as badly as we do.
"We have to go into this game firing on all cylinders," he noted. "We need to come out of the gate hot, and play our game.
"Every team is good at this point. From here on out, it's about playing football ... you have to play your best football if you want to advance," added Aiello. "That's been the message all week, and I think the kids have done a good job taking that approach as well."
Game time is 5 p.m. at Vestal High School's Dick Hoover Stadium.
IN PHOTO 1: Tioga's Emmett Wood.