The Daily Star
---- — It seemed like an obvious question.
Having not seen Unatego football coach Frank Microni in a few weeks and then noticing the thick beard that covered his face Saturday, I asked, “Are you a Red Sox fan?”
Microni quickly answered no to that query.
“This is what happens when I say, ‘Don’t lose again and I won’t shave,’” Microni said following his team’s 20-12 Section Four Class D semifinal victory over Elmira Notre Dame at Binghamton Alumni Stadium. “Then you get lucky and win some games and I start looking like a Duck Dynasty old man. I’ll grow it down to here (as he pointed to his chest). That’s fine, as long as we keep winning.”
The second-seeded Spartans (8-1) will take an eight-game winning streak into this Saturday’s Class D final against top-seeded Tioga (9-0) back at Binghamton Alumni. The game starts at noon.
The Tigers are coming off of a 54-0 victory over Spencer-Van Etten in Saturday’s other semifinal.
Unatego graduated 14 seniors off of last season’s team that went 6-3. Asked if he was satisfied with his team getting to the sectional final this year, Microni said:
“No. We want to win it. There was some uncertainty at the beginning of the year because we had younger kids filling in important roles. I think they saw what they can accomplish. We’ve had a better year this year and we’re younger. This year, they’ve accomplished some things people didn’t think they could do. Are they proud of that? Yes. Are they satisfied? No.
“They think they can win next week,” he continued. “I think they can win next week. We wouldn’t come if we didn’t think we could win. Tioga is a great team. We saw them last year. These guys know what they’re about. We’ll try to do what we do and score some points. It’s exciting for those guys and I’m proud of them.”
Unatego and Tioga played a dandy last season that came down to the final play.
The Tigers wound up winning the sectional semifinal, 26-21, in a game that saw the Spartans rally from deficits of 20-0 and 26-7 at Binghamton Alumni.
Tyler Butler, The Daily Star’s Player of the Year in 2012, threw two touchdown passes to Jon Wingate, the latter an 11-yarder on a fourth-and-5 that brought the Spartans to 26-21 with 7 minutes, 3 seconds left.
But Unatego wouldn’t regain possession until 12.9 seconds remained as the powerful Tigers ate nearly seven minutes off the clock and forced the Spartans to use of all their timeouts.
Still, Butler found David VanAlstine behind Tioga’s defense on the right side for a 42-yard gain that gave Unatego a legitimate shot at a go-ahead touchdown from the Tigers’ 22 with 5.1 seconds left.
Ryan Verguson deflected a pass intended for Wingate on the final play to seal Tioga’s win.
Microni and Butler looked back to a play in the third quarter that may have cost Unatego a sectional championship.
Early in the third quarter with Unatego trailing by 19 points, Butler put the ball in the stomach of backfield mate David VanAlstine as both approached the right side of the line. When defenders converged on VanAlstine, Butler pulled the ball back and sprinted free up the right sideline for what appeared to be a 53-yard touchdown run. But an official blew the play dead, apparently thinking VanAlstine had the ball.
“They blew a touchdown dead,” Microni said following the game. “It’s an honest mistake. I’m not saying they were pulling for anybody. It didn’t benefit us, that’s for sure.”
Tioga went on to beat Groton, 52-8, in the sectional final, rout Sandy Creek, 54-13, in a state quarterfinal before falling, 7-6, to eventual state champion Randolph in a state semifinal.
Unfortunately for Unatego, the Tigers returned most of their roster from last year, including Carter Jackson and Dylan Babcock on the right side of their line. Both guys weigh over 250 pounds and they can move.
“They’re big and we’re fast,” was how Microni described this Saturday’s matchup.
Running back Jesse Manuel has averaged 10 yards a carry this season running behind Jackson and Babcock. He has more than 1,200 yards on the season.
“We’ll try to slow them down,” Microni said. “We have to create some turnovers and make some big plays. Hopefully, we’re a little quicker than they are and we can make some plays on the edge.”
The Tigers rolled up more than 600 yards of offense against S-VE last week.
“They’re a big team,” senior linebacker Joel VanAlstine said. “They like to slam it up the gut. We have to crack down on defense and take away that middle.”
Five times last week, Elmira Notre Dame advanced to at least Unatego’s 32 and came away with no points on those trips.
In the first quarter, the Crusaders drove to Unatego’s 17, a drive that ended with an interception by Nate Wilsey. Late in the second quarter, END made it to Unatego’s 32 before Corbin Henry intercepted Hunter Thomas as the Spartans’ 4.
On back-to-back drives in the third quarter, END penetrated to Unatego’s 27- and 18-yard lines. The first ended with an interception by VanAlstine that he returned 71 yards and END turned it over on downs the second time.
Finally, END made it Unatego’s 4 on its final drive before Henry made a clinching interception in the left corner of the end zone.
Sophomore quarterback Josh Feyerabend went 7-for-7 for 56 yards in the second half Saturday. He finished 15-for-29 for 228 yards.
Microni said he was pleased with Feyerabend’s decision making after halftime.
“Toward the end of the game, I think we started working the ball down the field and not trying to get all the big plays,” Microni said of Feyerabend, who completed three passes for 30 yards on Unatego’s final touchdown drive.
For the season, Feyerabend is 81-for-151 for 1,672 yards. His favorite targets, Kellen Komenda and Tanner Winchester, have 569 and 542 receiving yards, respectively.
Walton fans back Hoover
Walton coach Jim Hoover emerged from 408 coaches across the nation to finish third in an online vote held by USA TODAY to find the nation’s best high school coach.
Hoover was among eight coaches from New York state on the ballot. He won that vote with 38,654 to advance to a regional round.
In the regional round, Hoover garnered more than 89,000 votes online. That left eight coaches for the national round.
Hoover’s total increased again to 137,117.
He finished behind Kentucky’s Philip Haywood (1,529,789) and Maryland’s Kevin Lynott (1,311,825).
Voting ended Oct. 29.
Hoover has won a Section Four-record 298 games over 38 seasons at Walton. The Warriors finished the 2013 season with a 5-4 record.
Hoover steered Walton to a Class C state championship in 1994 and a Class D state title in 2007. Both of those teams went 13-0.
Walton’s athletic department received $500 for Hoover’s finish.
Rob Centorani covers high school football for The Daily Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.