After beating Harpursville last weekend in a battle of unbeatens, Tioga coach Nick Aiello’s concerns about a possible letdown heading into his team’s regular-season finale against Sidney were proven unnecessary Friday night.
Jesse Manuel rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns, Brad Jump added 143 yards and a touchdown on the ground and Tioga stifled Sidney’s high-powered spread offense in a 34-8 Section 4 Division VI title-clinching victory against the Warriors.
It was the third consecutive division title for the Tigers (7-0, 5-0 Division VI), who locked up the No. 1 seed in the Section 4 Class D playoffs while damaging the playoffs hopes of the Warriors (4-3, 3-2), who will have to sweat out this weekend’s results before learning whether it will make the eight-team Class D postseason field.
Manuel had a big hand in Tioga’s impressive night. The 5-foot-7, 151-pound sophomore, who combines electrifying speed with the toughness of a linebacker, ran for 202 of his yards in the first half in helping Tioga — the second-ranked Class D team in the state — to a 27-0 lead.
He scored on a 7-yard touchdown run to cap Tioga’s opening drive, a drive featuring a 42-yard run several plays earlier by Manuel in which he froze a Sidney defender with a juke move near the line of scrimmage.
On Tioga’s ensuing possession, Manuel took an option pitch to the left from quarterback Ryan Vergason, cut back inside and outran several Sidney defenders for a 58-yard touchdown run that put Tioga ahead 14-0 with 14 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Manuel accounted for all the yardage on Tioga’s third scoring drive. He ran for 42 yards on the first play before powering through three would-be tacklers on a 20-yard touchdown to make it 21-0 with 9:54 left in the second quarter.
Tioga’s defense then got in on the scoring. On a second-down play at the Sidney 45, Jump stepped in front of a short pass by Warriors’ quarterback Patrick Vibbard and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown to put Tioga comfortably ahead, 27-0, with 4:47 remaining in the second quarter. Jump later added a 58-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter for a 34-0 lead, and not long after that both teams’ emptied their benches.
“I thought coming off a big win last week on a Saturday, then having Monday off and a short week, I was worried about our focus in terms of defensive game plan,” said Aiello, whose team defeated previously unbeaten Harpursville, 45-20, last Saturday. “The kids responded great, they definitely brought their game, they were in the zone.”
Tioga’s defense limited Sidney’s offense — one that entered Friday’s contest averaging a shade over 37 points a game — to 174 total yards, nearly half of that in the fourth quarter. Vibbard managed to complete only 6 of 24 passes for 50 yards.
“We had a really good game plan coming in,” said two-way lineman Carter Jackson, who factored considerably in Tioga’s stellar defensive performance Friday. “Our interior guys on the line did a hell of a job … and the coverage was insane. Their quarterback had nowhere to go.”
Sidney did start the game off well. On the opening drive, the Warriors picked up a pair of first downs in reaching the Tioga 33-yard line. But after an offensive offside penalty, a 2-yard gain by Mike Chase and back-to-back incompletions by Vibbard, the Warriors’ drive stalled at the Tioga 25 when Vibbard’s 11-yard pass to Jordan Constable came up two yards short of a first down.
After that, Sidney had two first downs on its following four drives as Tioga seized control.
“The first series, we thought we had a few things that were working,” Sidney coach Jeff Matthews said. “The longer we went without scoring, the more enthusiastic their defense got.”