Turns out, Jesse Manuel’s 33-yard touchdown run that supplied the winning points in Tioga’s thrilling, 33-26 Class D state-championship victory over Ticonderoga on Friday at the Carrier Dome wasn’t exactly what Tigers coach Nick Aiello had in mind.
Tioga senior kicker Tanner Folk has a powerful right leg. Anyone who’s watched him warm up before games or has seen his extra points sail 25 or so yards past the goal posts, knows he has the potential to hit from 40 yards or better.
So with 20-some seconds left and the score tied at 26, Aiello called a power-lead to the middle of the field.
“We were trying to get 5 to 6 yards, trying to keep the ball in the middle for a field goal,” Aiello said.
And Manuel’s initial cut positioned him right in the middle of the field. Then Manuel did what he does, making a sharp cut left and racing into the end zone with 16 seconds left.
“I saw him make that cut,” the coach said. “He can make one cut and he’s gone.”
Forget about third-down success, in high school football it’s fourth-down success that often separates teams.
Perhaps the reason the Class D state final came down to the final seconds was because both teams were so good on fourth down. The teams combined to go 6-for-6 on fourth down, with each side converting three.
All of the Sentinels’ success came while building a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Evan Graney hit passes on all three fourth downs, the first coming on fourth-and-3 from Tioga’s 29. Graney found Ryan Trudeau in the left flat for 7 yards. Three plays later, Ticonderoga faced fourth-and-11 when Graney hit Samuel Dushane over the middle for 17 yards.
Brody Rocque scored from 2 yards one play later.
After the Sentinels recovered on the ensuing squibbed kickoff, they had fourth-and-2 from Tioga’s 30. Rocque took a pitch heading right and threw to Griffin Hughes, who made a leaping catch over a Tioga defender for a touchdown.
The Tigers’ first fourth-down came on the next drive. From Ticonderoga’s 33 on fourth-and-2, Jesse Manuel found a crease off the left side and continued into the end zone.
Tioga’s scoring drive just before halftime also included a fourth-down conversion. It came from the Sentinels’ 38, where Connor Hutchinson connected with Manuel in the left flat for a 10-yard gain on fourth-and-6. Five plays later, Adam Zwierlein scored from 3 yards and the Tigers trailed, 14-12, at halftime.
The last was the most interesting. During a 17-play drive in the third quarter, Tioga faced fourth-and-3 from the Sentinels’ 31. Zwierlein ran off the right side and at first glance, appeared to be just short. Either way, it seemed worthy of a measurement, but the officials moved the chains. Six plays later, Hutchinson scored from the 5 and Tioga held an 18-14 lead.
Since sectional play started, Tioga hadn’t committed a turnover — a four-game stretch heading into the state final. During the same time frame, Ticonderoga hadn’t allowed a point.
Both impressive streaks ended Friday.
Manuel lost a fumble in the second quarter and Hutchinson was intercepted in the fourth.
The Sentinels gave up their first points in more than a month when Manuel scored on a 32-yard run early in the second quarter.
“They were everything we thought they’d be — physical,” Aiello said.
Zach Hutchinson, Tioga’s imposing two-way lineman, also sounded impressed by the hard-hitting Sentinels.
“We knew it was going to be a smash-mouth game,” he said. “We love to hit and they love to hit. It was just a great game.”
Silvanic delivers in clutch
Chenango Forks’ lead to begin second-half play against Greenwich in the Class C final was 21-7, valuable but not yet comfortable.
The Blue Devils turned that into a three-TD spread on their opening second-half possession, one kept afloat by conversion of a third-and-19.
One play after Forks was called for holding, Tony Silvanic passed 21 yards to Cody Lamond for that third-down success that advanced the Devils to Greenwich’s 11-yard line. On the next down, Lamond took a sweep left for a touchdown without so much as contact by a defender.
Lamond set up Forks’ second TD by tugging the football from a Witches kick-return man and taking control at the 21.
“That was huge. Talk about not giving up big plays and being someone who can make a big play, that was absolutely huge,” said Devils coach David Hogan, whose team rolled by 42-7. “Talk about setting the tone, that was a huge, huge play. His catch from Tony was a huge play, too. We had third and a long way to go, that was a big play.”
How debilitating for the opponent, Studer was asked, regarding that third-and-19 conversion?
“I’d like to not think about how debilitating that is,” he said. “I don’t have to feel that and I’m glad I never will.”
From shaky beginnings
It was not the most tidy of beginnings for Chenango Forks on Friday in the Dome.
The Blue Devils’ first offensive series went as follows: False start, 8-yard rush, incomplete pass, false start, interception.
However, the soon-to-be three-time defending Class C state champions tended to matters summarily and emerged with a 35-point margin of victory that was 10 greater than the next-closest of five title games.
Depth of talent
Perhaps if Maine-Endwell didn’t turn the ball over seven times, two of which were returned for touchdowns, the Spartans might have had a shot to beat Buffalo South Park, a game they lost, 43-26, in a state semifinal and one that ended M-E’s state-record 62-game winning streak.
South Park went on to beat Poughkeepsie’s Our Lady of Lourdes, 49-46, in the Class A state final Friday.
But M-E is not the only team in Section 4 that might be thinking what might have been.
Section 4 Class B schools Waverly, Owego and Chenango Valley might be doing the same thing, along with Class AA Elmira.
CV and Owego beat Waverly during the regular season. Waverly avenged both losses in the playoffs, barely holding off Owego in a semifinal and then pulling away from CV after the teams went back-and-forth for three quarters.
Waverly then fell to Cazenovia, 17-14, in overtime in a state quarterfinal. Cazenovia went on to win the state title, 22-19, over Schuylerville on Sunday.
As for Elmira, it had a lead over Liverpool in the closing minute of its state quarterfinal before falling, 27-22. Liverpool went on to lose to Rochester Aquinas, 17-16, in a semifinal, and Aquinas routed Saratoga Springs, 43-19, in Sunday’s Class AA final.
Based on those results and state titles won by Chenango Forks and Tioga, it seems clear that all of Section 4’s classifications had what it took to compete for state titles.
— Kevin Stevens contributed.