Jackson kicks Tigers to Section Four title
BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - If there's one thing more foreign to Tioga football than the forward pass, it's the kicking game.
However, Carter Jackson ushered in a new era Saturday afternoon, splitting the up rights with a 27-yard field goal with 8:11 remaining in the game to lift the Tigers to a 19-18 win over the state's top-ranked Walton in the Section IV, Class D championship game here at Alumni Stadium.
"It just seemed right. It was a game-time decision," said Tioga coach Nick Aiello.
"It was little more than an extra point for us and Carter (Jackson) has been good at those," he said.
"Warming up he looked good and he got the job done," added Aiello.
Jackson's teammates were confident as they lined up for the field-goal attempt.
"There was no doubt," laughed Bennett. "Carter came through for us."
"We never practice those," said Tyler Spires. "When Carter put it through, it almost brought me to tears. It was awesome."
The go-ahead field goal was set up by a pair of Walton fumbles.
After erasing a 16-6 Tioga halftime lead with a pair of third-quarter TDs, Walton was driving for another score, but Mike Beers, who led all rushers with 153 yards, fumbled at the Tigers' 12 and Jackson pounced on it.
The Tioga offense, which was held to just 64 yards in the second half, was forced to punt after three plays, and Jackson got off a 33-yard punt to move Walton back to its own 48.
On the Warriors first play, QB Dalton Kaminsky fumbled and Ryan Vergason came out of the pile with the ball.
"Getting those turnovers were huge plays for us because (Walton) was driving the ball," said Aiello. "But give credit to our defense, it played hard all game and they came up with those fumble recoveries, so they were obviously finding the ball. Those were huge plays."
Facing a 3rd-and-11, Tioga dug into its back of tricks and came out with the hook-and-lateral, with Vergason delivering a quick strike to Bennett, who lateralled it to Spires who carried it to the Walton 37 for a 13-yard gain. A late hit call tacked on an additional 15 yards and the Tigers were in business at the Warrior 22.
Spires bulled 9 yards off the left side to the 13, but despite a first down on the next play, the Tigers possession stalled at the 9, setting the stage for Jackson's kick, which cleared the cross bar by 10 yards.
The Warriors had more than 8 minutes remaining on the clock and methodically moved the ball to the Tioga 37 on seven consecutive running plays, but on the eighth Jackson and Mike Melella penetrated into the backfield and dropped Kaminsky for a 4-yard loss.
After a pair of incompletions left Walton with a 4th-and-14, Spires slid through the offensive line and tripped up Kaminsky, who was starting to roll out, for a 9-yard loss, giving the Tigers the ball at midfield with 3:12 left in the game.
Two plays later, on 3rd-and-1, Vergason slid off center Jake Howland's left hip on a QB sneak, broke a tackle and gained 11 yards to the Walton 30, effectively ending the game as the Tigers were able to run out the clock.
Bennett said the match-up with Walton, who eliminated Tioga with a 16-6 win in last year's Class D semifinals, was just what the Tigers wanted.
"It feels great," he said. "After last year, we were pretty motivated to play Walton again."
"We stuck together and pulled it out," Bennett added.
Spires said it was a very physical battle.
"It was a very tough game," he said, "it was very physical.
"They had someone in our linebackers face 100 percent of the time," said Spires. "We just had to shed the blocks and let the rest of our linebackers and our line do the work."
Walton opened the game with a 12-play, 50-yard scoring drive - aided by a pair of Tioga offsides penalties - that chewed up more than 5 1/2 minutes off the clock to take a 6-0 lead.
Tioga responded quickly as Bennett ripped off a 36-yard run on the Tigers' first play from scrimmage to move the ball to the Walton 16. Five plays later, Bennett took a direct snap and raced around left end on a 9-yard scoring run. Spires' run for conversion gave Tioga an 8-6 lead with 3:23 left in the first quarter.
The Warriors mounted a 13-play drive on its next possession to drive to the Tioga 10, but a Spires sack of Kaminsky on fourth down ended the threat.
Walton forced a three-and-out Tioga possession, but Jackson boomed a 51-yard punt to drive the Warriors back to their 40.
After a pair of first downs moved the ball into Tioga territory, Kaminsky fumbled and Melella recovered at the Tigers 39.
Bennett, who led Tioga with 111 yards and two TDs on 14 carries, busted off a 16-yard run to the Walton 45 and three plays later, ripped through a big hole and raced 37 yards for a TD. Vergason's pass to Dalton Wojcuich gave Tioga a 16-6 lead with 1:44 remaining in the half.
The Warriors came out of the halftime locker room inspired. They forced a three-and-out from the Tigers on their first possession and then scored on their third play when Beers tore through the right side of the Tigers defense on a 66-yard scoring run.
Tioga again stopped the Walton two-point conversion attempt and maintained a 16-12 lead with 8:48 remaining in the third quarter.
The Tigers were again forced to punt on their next possession and Walton scored three plays later when Tioga's secondary bit on a play-action fake and Kaminsky hit Nick Shiels with an 85-yard TD pass to put Walton up 18-16 with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter.
Aiello credited longtime Walton coach Jim Hoover with effective adjustments - on both sides of the ball - at halftime.
"I think we got a little methodical on defense," he said "(Walton) was doing some different things up front and they were getting off the ball better than we were in the second half, but when we needed to step up our defensive line did.
"(Walton) also made some defensive adjustment and it took us a little while to figure out what they were doing," said Aiello. "Most of that's my fault because I didn't figure out what to do until halfway through the fourth quarter."
Walton ran for 218 yards on 50 carries in the game and added 106 yards through the air, while Tioga's potent ground game - averaging 375 yards per game entering the contest - was limited to 179 yards on 48 carries and the Tigers managed just 6 yards through the air.
It's the first Section IV title and the first win for Tioga against Walton since 1981.
"Thirty years is a long time for a school not to win a Sectional title," said Spires. "This is just awesome."
Tioga, now 8-0, will take on the Section III champ at Alumni Stadium Saturday at 3 p.m.