ENDICOTT – Tioga Central responded to an early deficit by stringing nine touchdowns over the next 33 minutes of game clock Friday night and emerged with a 61-23 victory over Moravia in a Section 4 Class D football semifinal.
The Tigers (8-1) battered the first-time semifinalist for 495 rushing yards and had five players contribute at least one TD as they secured the program’s fourth consecutive berth in a sectional title game.
Next up will be Unatego, which got past Seton Catholic Central in Friday’s Game 2 at Ty Cobb Stadium. A season ago in the championship game, Tioga smacked the Spartans by 80-53 in what lapsed into an unsightly, pointlessly prolonged contest after the Tigers had matters well in hand.
Junior Jesse Manuel eclipsed the 5,000-yard rushing mark in his third varsity season, hitting up the Blue Devils for 177 with three touchdowns. Brad Jump added 96 yards and two scores, and Jake Lewis came up with one offensive and one defensive score.
Six of the Tigers’ TDs covered 10 or more yards, longest of the bunch a crafty 60-yard rush from Matt Jump midway into the final quarter.
Hard to imagine when all was said and done that Division VIII champion Moravia (7-2) didn’t fall behind until the waning seconds of the opening quarter.
In fact, it was the Blue Devils sending something of a message on the evening’s first offensive possession. They took that 60 yards on 12 plays — twice converting on third down and once on fourth down — and went on top when Jared Lyon started right and cut back through Tioga defenders to complete a 26-yard scoring rush. Lyon’s PAT kick made for a 7-0 advantage with 6:41 elapsed.
Thereafter, as Brad Jump so succinctly and accurately stated, “We were in synch, we zoned in and played some football.”
“They definitely surprised us,” quarterback Sam Burns said, “but we got back up and took it to them, got fired up.”
The Tigers’ first possession lasted all of three plays and 66 seconds. Brad Jump gained 18 first-down yards and two snaps later Manuel ran 44 for a score which, with Tanner Folk’s PAT made it all-square.
A three-and-out Moravia possession was followed by a five-play, 58-yard drive that required a shade over two minutes. A 17-yard pass from Burns to tight end Justin Fiske was the biggest gainer, and the score came two downs later when Jump carried in from the 15.
And so it went.
The Tigers’ Zach Hutchinson recovered a fumble on Moravia’s next snap, and six plays later Jump powered for a 1-yard score. Lewis then snatched the football from the air on an exquisitely executed onside kick to set his team up 48 yards from the goal line. A 22-yard rush outside by Manuel chewed up the greatest chunk on a five-play possession Manuel finished by rushing virtually untouched inside for a 10-yard score and 27-7 lead midway into the second quarter.
First-half scoring was concluded when Lewis took a jet sweep 13 yards toward the Tigers’ sideline for a TD and Folk kicked the PAT 40.9 seconds before halftime.
And just to dispose of the half-ounce of remaining uncertainty, Tioga took the opening second-half possession 60 yards on eight plays for points. This TD brought a wee twist, with Burns flipping to Fiske for a hands-over-head toe-tapper just inside the right boundary 3:37 in.
Adam Zwierlein rushed 24 yards to the 1, then was whacked for a yard loss on the two plays preceding the score. In fact, that marked Zwierlein’s second double-digit advancement that was stopped a yard short of points. He closed with 9.2 yards per carry, yet another backfield option to grab the attention of scouts present.
For the night, Tioga ball carriers went for 9.9 per attempt, and Burns was a cool 4-for-5 with just enough passing activity to perhaps discourage future foes from loading up wholeheartedly against that run game.
“Up front I thought we blocked very well, getting off the ball I saw some good things from guys out there,” Tigers coach Nick Aiello said.
Moravia boosted its rushing total to 177 yards with gains of 56 and 18, respectively, on its final two offensive plays in the face of Tioga reserves. Lyon led Blue Devils rushers with 71 yards on 16 attempts.
Tioga, ranked third behind Randolph and Red Jacket by the New York State Sports Writers Association, will bring a seven-game win streak into next weekend’s championship game. The Tigers’ loss was absorbed in Week 2 at Chenango Forks, 21-7.
The Tigers extended to 11 games their win streak in Section 4 playoff games. The last time a Tioga squad was beaten in a sectional playoff game was in 2010, when Walton was a 16-6 winner in the semifinal round.
On Twitter: @PSBKevin