That skyscraper-high hurdle once again awaits Tioga Central’s football team.
Since 2011, Tioga has qualified for the Class D state semifinals every year. Every year it has played a powerhouse from the western side of the state and every year its season has ended one game short of the state final.
There was the 14-6 loss to Letchworth in 2011, followed by consecutive losses to Randolph by scores of 7-6, 35-6 and 20-8.
Again, a western power stands in the Tigers’ way. Tioga (10-1) will play Irondequoit’s Bishop Kearney (9-2) at 5 p.m. Friday at Cicero-North Syracuse.
The winner will play Section 1’s Tuckahoe (3-6) or Section 7’s Ticonderoga (10-1) in the final at noon Nov. 27 at the Carrier Dome.
The Tigers cruised into this semifinal, taking a 37-point halftime lead against Section 3’s Sandy Creek en route to a 50-14 quarterfinal victory this past Friday at Binghamton Alumni Stadium.
“I really think we keep climbing,” said Aiello, whose team has played turnover-free football the past two weeks, including a 53-26 victory over Deposit-Hancock in the Section 4 final. “I haven’t felt that plateau. These kids are eager and I think that will help next week. We’ll rely on our experience once again. We’re going to look to get after it next week and see if we can punch that ticket to the Dome.”
Bishop Kearney is coming off a 22-12 victory over Section 6’s Franklinville/Ellicottville in its state quarterfinal.
“I know they’re very, very athletic, their team speed is impressive, especially at the skill positions and they have some size to go with it,” Aiello said.
Junior Dahmir Pross is BK’s featured running back. He rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the state quarterfinal. The week before, Pross gained 204 rushing yards in a 46-21 win over Clyde-Savannah as the Kings won their first Section 5 title since 1989.
BK operates out of a spread offense. Senior quarterback Todd LaRocca went 10-for-16 for 107 yards in the state quarterfinal. Against Clyde-Savannah, he went 18-for-36 for 219 yards and four TDs. In the Section 5 final, LaRocca hit senior Justin Davis eight times for 133 yards and three TDs.
“They’re pretty balanced with the run and the pass and that makes them difficult to defend,” Aiello said. “They have a good running back, the quarterback can throw and he’s good with his legs.”
The target for a Kings’ defense, which Aiello said likes to play a lot of people close to the line, will be senior running back Jesse Manuel. All he’s done in a Tigers uniform is rush for 8,074 yards, second all-time in state history behind former Onondaga star Mike Hart. Manuel has rushed 246 times this season for 2,356 yards and 37 TDs. Backfield mate Adam Zwierlein, a senior, has averaged nearly 11 yards en route to gaining 1,127 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.
“We think there are some things we can take advantage of,” Aiello said.