Groton football coach Jeff Lewis knows what his Indians are in for in Friday’s Section 4 Class D championship game against defending champion Tioga.
“They’re big and aggressive offensively, they like to ground and pound you,” Lewis said Thursday. “And on defense, they’re also aggressive and big, and they like to come after you. It’s hard to run through the cracks.”
Lewis and his Indians (7-2), 16th in the Class D state rankings, are hoping to create enough cracks to give talented junior running back, Zeke Wright, some opportunities to make plays. Wright’s ability to break free could be the Indians’ best chance to knock off the second-ranked Tigers (8-1).
Groton and Tioga are scheduled to play at 7:30 at Binghamton Alumni Stadium, with the Class A game between Vestal and Union-Endicott starting at 5. The Class D game had been scheduled for Union-Endicott’s Ty Cobb Stadium, but that field remained under a protective tarp Wednesday because of superstorm Sandy, forcing a rescheduling of games.
It was in a snowstorm that the Tigers and Indians squared off a year ago in the Class D final, with Groton’s featured passing attack suffering from the conditions in a 52-0 Tioga triumph. That came two weeks after the teams’ regular-season meeting, which Tioga won 48-6.
“It was snowy, cold, nasty, everything went in Tioga’s favor that day,” said Lewis of last year’s title game. “They’re a big team and you can grind it out in those conditions, and our passing game never got going. But obviously, some of that was Tioga, too. You have to play in the weather, there are no domes down here. They were just a better team.”
Tioga has relied this season on senior Tyler Spires, who ran for more than 1,400 yards last season, and a pair of previously inexperienced backs in sophomore Brad Jump and freshman Jesse Manuel.
All three ran for touchdowns in last Saturday’s 26-21 semifinal victory over Unatego. Manuel ran for 170 yards to eclipse 1,000 yards for the season. Jump, who had 87 yards Saturday, has more than 500 yards. Spires had 122 yards on 18 carries last week, and has rushed for 1,500-plus.
“We had high expectations for them, and they’ve met those expectations,” said Tioga coach Nick Aiello, a 2006 IC graduate who was a three-time all-Empire 8 punter. “We understood that they were young coming into this year, but at the same time we knew that they were just two tough kids that you can really count on. They have definitely stepped up to the plate and done more than what we expected.”
Creating running lanes for those three is an offensive line that, Lewis says, outweighs his defensive front “by about 100 pounds.” He’s hoping Wright’s breakaway potential on offense will offset the Tigers’ bulk.
“Zeke knows that the guys up front make holes for him,” Lewis said. “And when you have a kid who stands back there with that kind of speed, you’re always one play away from scoring. If he can find a hole and get a seam, he’s off to the races.”
Wright rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns, one on a 75-yard trap play in the second quarter, last week in the Indians’ 30-15 defeat of Harpursville in the Class D semis at Alumni Stadium. He is averaging better than 180 yards per game this season, including a season-low 33 yards in the Indians’ 22-20 Week 4 loss to Oxford.