Tigers fall to Randolph in state semi-finals
ROCHESTER, N.Y. - It has been said that football is a game of inches.
That every yard matters and can be the difference between winning and losing.
That was definitely the case for Tioga in their New York, Class D state semifinal against Randolph on Friday night.
Trailing 7-0 all night after Randolph scored less than three minutes in, the Tigers got on the board with 6:10 to go as Tyler Spires broke free from a pair of Randolph tacklers and ran in from 35 yards out.
The Tigers lined up for the two-point try. They put the ball back in Spires hands, looking for the two yards needed to take the lead.
However, Randolph, who won state titles in 2005 and 2009, was ready, making the stop handing Tioga a 7-6 loss that ends the Tigers season a win short of the state finals.
"It was a play we practice," Tioga coach Nick Aiello. "There was no doubt we were going to go for two. It's a play we call 'win the game.' If Tyler has a head of steam he's in."
Both defenses made things difficult all night long.
Tyler Spires did have 137 yards, but he needed 24 carries to get that total, while Jesse Manuel had 96 yards, with 63 of that came on one long run in the first half.
Jordan Dowiasz led the Randolph rushing attack with 108 yards, but he needed 29 carries to break the century mark.
One of the things that Randolph brought on defense was speed, which caused some problems for the Tioga offense.
"That was the big thing, their speed on defense," Aiello said. "When their safeties and defensive backs are getting in the backfield it's tough. They put a lot of hats on our runners. It was tough, they are a good team."
While the Tigers will lose six players to graduation, including Spires, they have a lot returning next year, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
Lineman Carter Jackson knows that coming up two yards short of a state final is something that will weigh on the Tioga players for a long time.
"I can promise you that me and all the returning players will be in the weight room on Monday," Jackson said. "We had a lot of talent this year, but we made too many mistakes and it came back to get us today."
Jackson knows that next year the line will make sure to not allow the team to come up a couple yards short.
"I didn't think two yards would stop us and I promise it will never happen again," Jackson said.
At the start it looked like it might be a long night for the Tigers.
Randolph took the opening kickoff and went 60 yards on six plays to take the lead.
The drive was keyed by a 35-yard run from Dowiasz. Facing a fourth-and-four at the Tioga 16 the Cardinals went for it and converted as Mitchell Maycock hit Nathan Beaver on a 16-yard pass with 9:28 left in the opening quarter. Micah Kehoe hit the extra point and it was 7-0 Randolph.
On the next drive the Tigers got a big run from Manuel as he took off for 22 yards into Cardinals territory, but Randolph forced the fumble at the end of the run.
Jackson ended Randolph's next drive with a 10-yard sack on third down, but after a three-and-out on offense, the Tigers punt went just seven yards, giving Randolph the ball at the Tioga 37.
The Cardinals moved the ball down to the Tigers two yard line and faced a fourth-and-goal from the two. Dowiasz took the pitch, but Jake Howland caught him in the backfield for a two-yard loss to end the threat.
Tioga knows how important it was that the team bounced back after the early struggles and didn't let Randolph get that second touchdown and start to run away in the game.
"We had to keep everyone calm in the huddle," Spires said. "We knew we couldn't get down, we had to keep our heads up. I'm very proud of how everyone stayed together and kept their heads up."
"I am very proud in that aspect," Aiello said. "They scored on that first drive, but then we held them the rest of the game."
Tioga started at their four and on a second-down play from their own seven Manuel broke free for 63 yards. It appeared he was gone to the races, but Dowiasz showed his speed, catching him from behind and bringing him down at the 30.
Randolph's defense then held, stopping Tioga on a fourth-and-one play.
The Cardinals got the ball back and completed a 44-yard pass from Maycock to get to the Tioga 34, but on his next pass Howland made the interception, giving the Tigers the ball back.
Tioga got a 30-yard run from Spires and moved to the Randolph 20 yard line.
They faced a third and seven from the Randolph 2- but were called for motion on offense. On the next play they threw an incomplete pass, again getting called for motion on offense, but Randolph declined the penalty.
It was fourth-and-12 at the 25 and Ryan Vergason hit Manuel on a 25-yard touchdown, but an illegal procedure penalty brought the play back and on the next play again there was an illegal procedure penalty, their fourth in four plays for Tioga, but Randolph declined as the pass was incomplete ending the threat.
The defense took control the rest of the way and neither team was able to get much going until Spires touchdown in the fourth.
While the Tigers season ended in the state semifinals for the second straight year, the players know how much they accomplished the past two years.
"I'm just proud of everyone," Spires said. "For us to get back here with everything we lost. I think definitely both years people kind of underestimated us and we really did make it far."
And, there were some great memories for Spires and the seniors the past couple of years.
"Definitely making it this far both years, winning sectionals both year was great," he said. "Beating Walton 19-18 to go to states last year and then making the fourth-quarter stop on Unatego this year to win the game, those were great memories."
Aiello is happy with what his team accomplished.
"I'm very proud of these guys, all year long we kept talking about working harder and playing harder and they did that," he said. "They (Randolph) brought it and we knew they were going to today. It's tough to lose 7-6, but I'm proud of what they accomplished."
And, with all the players returning next year Aiello hopes they will use this loss as motivation.
"It better make them hungry," he said. "I hope it makes them work that much harder."
Jackson knows that the returning players will be ready.
"This will push us," he said. "I know I will push myself and we will be ready next year."