Tioga took little time Friday night in providing a rude welcome to the state football playoffs for Sandy Creek.
Tyler Spires rushed for 196 yards and three touchdowns and Jesse Manuel added 111 rushing yards and three touchdowns for the Tigers, who scored four first-quarter touchdowns on their way to a 54-13 victory over their Section 3 foe in a Class D state quarterfinal game at East Syracuse-Minoa High School.
Tioga (10-1) advances to the state semifinals for the second straight year. It will meet Section 6’s Randolph — a 34-14 winner over Section 5’s Avon — at 5 p.m. next Friday at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester.
The Tigers will go into that contest not lacking in confidence following a stellar performance against a Sandy Creek squad that was making the first state playoff appearance in program history.
This one was effectively over after the first quarter.
After an unsuccessful onside kick attempt to open the game, Tioga got the ball back one play later when Comets running back Cameron Hall lost a fumble at midfield.
Three plays later, Tioga took the lead as Manuel scored on a 7-yard run and Brad Jump added a 2-point conversion to make it 8-0 just 53 seconds in.
Tioga attempted another onside kick, and this time was successful as Dalton Wojcuich recovered at the Sandy Creek 39-yard line. Seven plays later, Spires took a handoff and ran outside left for a 7-yard touchdown play as Tioga went up 16-0 with 7:51 left in the first quarter.
“To go up 16-0 before they even had a chance to move the ball at all, it was huge,” Tioga coach Nick Aiello said. “That was a cushion, that took the nerves out and helped us relax and get into a groove. We definitely came out firing on all cylinders.”
Tioga didn’t let up from there. Sandy Creek went three-and-out on its next two possessions, and Tioga followed with touchdowns both times.
The first of those came on a 47-yard run up the middle by Manuel, who was barely touched at the line of scrimmage. The other was by Vergason, who plunged in from 1 yard out a play after he ran 30 yards. Vergason’s touchdown made it 30-0 with 2:18 left in the first quarter.
Manuel added a 3-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and Spires had touchdown runs of 5 and 57 yards in the third quarter, the latter a zig-zagging run in which he outran several defenders over the last 10 or so yards to find the end zone with 4:14 remaining.
That made it 54-0, and Tioga emptied its bench shortly thereafter.
“I didn’t think it would happen as fast as it (did),” said Spires, who earned game Most Valuable Player honors. “But I knew if we did what we usually do, we’d get the win. To come up 30-0 in the first quarter, it was kind of a shock, but it was nice.”
Tioga piled up 423 yards of offense, all on the ground. In addition to the 100-yard games by Spires and Manuel, Vergason rushed for 69 yards and Brad Jump chipped in with 42 yards.
“It’s huge. It’s what we planned on doing, it’s how we’ve done it all year,” said Zach Kelsey, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound offensive tackle who with his fellow linemen did yeoman work in bolstering the run game. “It’s hard to explain how good it feels to do what we’ve done, but it’s nice knowing you have two of the best running backs in New York state with Tyler and Jesse, coming from a small school.”
Sandy Creek (10-1) won the Section 3 title last weekend with a 26-21 victory over Westmoreland, rallying from a fourth-quarter deficit. But the Comets didn’t get anything going against Tioga, mustering 96 yards of offense and four first downs over the first three quarters before managing a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Tigers’ reserves.
“They’re a tough ballclub, there’s a reason where they are where they’re at,” Stevens said. “We had a rough week of practice (with sickness), but even on our best day I’m not sure we match them.
“We had hoped to have had a better start. I think we put everything into last week, and I think we were drained.”