Tioga made it back-to-back Section 4 Class D football titles Friday night, this championship considerably easier on the nerves than a year ago.
Jesse Manuel rushed for 272 yards and three touchdowns as the Tigers rolled to a 52-8 victory over Groton at Binghamton Alumni Stadium.
Tioga (9-1) will meet Section 3 champion Sandy Creek — a 26-21 winner over Westmoreland on Friday — in a state quarterfinal game 5 p.m. Friday at East Syracuse-Minoa High School.
A year ago, Tioga earned the program’s first trip to the state playoffs with a dramatic 19-18 victory over Walton in the Section 4 Class D final, Carter Jackson’s 26-yard field goal with 8:11 remaining providing the game-winning points.
Friday’s contest, however, was a much different story, as the Tigers dominated in nearly every facet against an Indians squad seeking its first Section 4 title.
Tioga rushed for 540 yards, while limiting Groton to 116 yards of offense, including zero yards on 21 rushes.
“It feels incredible, I couldn’t ask for a better team and a better bunch of guys to play with,” said Jackson, who helped spearhead the Tigers’ defensive effort with a pair of sacks, earning Most Valuable Player honors. “This was our goal, but it’s only a leg of the journey we want to accomplish.”
Tioga struck early, taking advantage of a couple of drive-extending offsides penalties by Groton to score on its opening possession. Manuel provided the first points with a 39-yard TD run with 5:05 left in the first quarter.
After a three-and-out by Groton, Tioga moved 87 yards in nine plays for its second touchdown. Ryan Vergason capped the drive with a 1-yard run on the first play of the second quarter and Brad Jump added a two-point conversion to make it 16-0.
Tyler Spires, who chipped in with 91 rushing yards, added a 14-yard touchdown run and Manuel completed the first-half scoring with an 11-yard touchdown with 1:20 remaining as the Tigers led 32-0 after two quarters.
Manuel’s final touchdown came via a 56-yard touchdown with 8:37 remaining that made it 38-0.
“Any given night, any of our backs can have a huge night,” said Tioga coach Nick Aiello, a 2006 Ithaca College graduate and former all-league punter for the Bombers. “Jesse, he’s got that second gear that once he gets in the open field he’s tough to catch. We were able to open holes for all our backs tonight.”
Groton avoided the shutout when junior running back Zeke Wright scored on a 1-yard run with 4:03 remaining in the third quarter.
“We had a couple of things go the wrong way for us early, and that hurt us,” Groton coach Jeff Lewis said. “And then they jump out and score a couple of touchdowns and going into halftime we’re down 32-0.
“We never could get our composure enough to come back. We had some good moments when we did some good things, but we just couldn’t finish.”
Last season, Tioga advanced to the state semifinals before losing to eventual state champion Letchworth of Section 5, 14-6.
Aiello said he and his staff have not mentioned last season at all, preferring to look ahead.
“It really says a lot about the kids, the way they played (Friday) and the effort they put in all year to get to this point,” Aiello said. “This is where we want to be and they’re peaking at the right time. We’re seeing great performances from everybody.
“This is a great confidence boost going into next week.”