Late Manuel touchdown propels Tioga past Chenango Forks
TIOGA CENTER, N.Y. - Haggerty Field was not for the faint of heart Friday night.
Jesse Manuel's 3-yard TD run with 2:35 left in the game lifted Tioga to a 7-0 win over Chenango Forks in a fierce and physical battle between two defending Section IV champions.
Manuel, a 150-pound sophomore, gained 157 yards - most of them between the tackles - on 32 carries and junior fullback Brad Jump added 72 yards on 16 carries as the Tigers pounded out a hard-earned 229 yards on the ground.
Tioga coach Nick Aiello praised Manuel's play after the win.
"I think we saw what (Jesse Manuel) can do when he has to earn his yardage.
"He is running downhill at 150 pounds and you better be ready to stick him or he's going forward after you hit him," said Aiello. "I would like to go back and see how many yards he had after contact. I would bet it was quite a few."
Aiello also sang the praises of the Tioga defense, which held Forks to 94 yards in total offense - including 62 yards rushing on 20 carries - and four first downs.
"You have to hit and tackle. We just hammer that home as coaches.
"You can have the best team in the world, but if you're not willing to hit and tackle you're not going to get the job done," he said. "These kids buy into it and they should because that's what works.
"The tackling form and the tackling technique drills we do every single day in practice - we hammer home that's what wins football games and that's what you saw on defense tonight," added Aiello.
Chenango Forks coach David Hogan said the Tigers were exactly what he expected.
"It's pretty much what we expected after watching them last year and knowing they had most of their team back.
"We knew they were big, strong, tough, physical kids and that's exactly what we saw tonight," he said.
"When you play good teams, some of your weaknesses are exposed," added Hogan. "That's what happened tonight and we're going to have to work on some things."
Tioga had Forks on its heels from the outset.
After falling on the opening kickoff at their 35, the Tigers picked up a pair of first downs. Facing a 3rd-and-2 at the Forks 33, Ryan Vergason's pass was picked off by L.J. Watson at the Blue Devils' 2.
Tioga forced a quick punt and took over at the CF 35, but a penalty on third down stalled the possession and the Tigers punted.
The Blue Devils put together their best drive of the game with Isaiah Zimmer and Watson ripping off back-to-back runs of 12 and 16 yards to move the ball into Tioga territory.
On 3rd-and-9 at the Tioga 46, Vergason gained a bit of redemption, picking off a J.C. Sweeney pass at the 35.
After a short Tioga punt, Forks took over at its 49 and, thanks in large part to a 15-yard penalty for a late hit after a 20-yard completion from Sweeney to Watson, moved the ball to the Tigers' 17.
After three carries for six yards by Zimmer, the Blue Devils turned the ball over on downs when Sweeney's fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 6:40 remaining in the first half. The Tigers drove the ball to the Forks 35 on runs by Manuel and Jump, but time expired as a Vergason fourth-down pass was batted down in the end zone.
Aiello said despite not capitalizing on opportunities in the first half, he felt good about what the Tigers were doing.
"We went into halftime 0-0 and it's a big game, so those things are bound to happen.
"There wasn't much concern," said Aiello. "I was just hammering home to the kids to trust what we were doing because it was working.
"We didn't have to do anything special," he added. "We just had to keep grinding away."
Chenango Forks' first two possessions of the second half were both three-and-outs and the Tigers again quickly gained a field-position advantage.
Tioga drove deep into CF territory on its second possession of the half, but a Manuel fumble at the 19 ended the threat.
After an exchange of punts, the Blue Devils found themselves on their own 14 after a 37-yard Carter Jackson punt.
After forcing another quick Forks punt, Tioga took over at its 45.
On the first play, Manuel ripped off a 33-yard run down the right sideline on a play originally intended to run behind the left-side of the offensive line.
"One of their guys grabbed hold of me and spun me around. I just put my hand down, kept my balance and found a seam up the sideline," said Manuel.
Five plays later, Manuel bulled in from 3 yards out for the game's only TD. Tanner Folk split the up rights with the PAT to make it 7-0.
Forks' next possession ended on the second play when Manuel picked off a Sweeney pass at midfield.
"I saw the quarterback drop back and saw his eyes look that way, so I went to the middle of the field," said Manuel. "He threw it up, kinda like a jump ball, and I went up and got it."
Sweeney completed just 2 of 11 passes for 32 yards and was picked off twice. Zimmer was held to 39 yards on 11 carries.
Three plays later, Jump plowed 7 yards up the middle for a first down, which allowed the Tigers to run out the clock.
Senior co-captain Jake Howland was sky-high after the win.
"It feels amazing. It was a war, especially in the trenches.
"I have to give it up for our backs, I've never seen guys run that hard," he said. "It's fun to watch them."
He also said hard work in practice paid off.
"That's how you're suppose to finish a game. It felt like we dominated, but it wasn't showing on the (score)board, but we didn't quit," said Howland. "That's why we work so hard in practice, for games like this."
Being a non-divisional game, Aiello said the win was as much about pride as anything else.
"There's something about wearing a Tioga jersey, you have to go out there and wear it with pride.
"I told the kids straight out: I don't care if you win or lose. I don't care what the scoreboard says at the end, you go out there and play Tioga football because that's what people from Tioga want to see," said Aiello. "I told them they're part of something - not just this team, but part of the community.
"They really bought into that and they played with a lot of pride tonight," he added.
Aiello also believes the win will have a lasting impact on the Tigers.
"I think this game says a lot moving on. It's not just a confidence-booster, but it shows in a close game we can grind it out. We didn't have that last year.
"I think this game should help a lot down the road, it proves to the kids in a close game we can grind it out and get a win," added Aiello.
Tioga is back in action Friday at Candor.