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November 12, 2013

Class D final will make for whale of story someday|

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The Daily Star

---- — BINGHAMTON – Imagine trying to re-tell the happenings of Saturday’s Section Four Class D football final in about 15 years.

You’re sitting around with buddies and start talking about a Unatego sophomore quarterback who threw for a state-record 579 yards and seven touchdowns, teams that combined for 1,247 yards from scrimmage, a Tioga squad that rushed for 625 yards and had 59 points by halftime, and a final score that read: 80-53.

If your friends are anything like mine, it wouldn’t take long before some wise-acre chimed in and said: “The fish was 37 feet long and jumped over the boat. I bare-handed it in mid-air, wrestled the orca for about 15 minutes in the boat and then ate it for dinner later that night.”

But this was no fish tale.

Tioga’s 27-point victory over Unatego on Saturday at Binghamton Alumni Stadium is likely to become a I’ll-never-forget-it moment for those who played, coached and attended it.

It’s my belief the Tigers (10-0) will go on to win the Class D state title in a few weeks. They might win it by a lot.

Offensively, it wasn’t as if it seemed like Tioga was playing with 13 or 14 guys. But the way the Tigers linemen got off the ball and created massive holes, sometimes it looked like Unatego was playing with eight on defense.

“They basically have the same team back they had last year and they do the same things, but they do them better,” Unatego coach Frank Microni said of the three-time defending sectional champions who advanced to the state semifinals last season. “And they’re committed. This is what Tioga does. This is their thing. They play football, they workout and they do what they need to do to get better. I think they’re much better than last year. It’s going to be tough for anybody to stop these guys.”

What Unatego proved Saturday is that if Tioga has a state-championship-caliber team, then the Spartans have a state-championship-caliber passing game.

Seeing as Tioga gave the vast majority of its starters the second half off Saturday after building a 59-12 halftime lead, let’s just look at what Unatego’s offense accomplished in the first half.

Put simply, the Spartans’ offense worked. And it worked against a Tioga defense that earned a 7-0 victory over Section Four Class C champion Chenango Forks in Week 2.

Before the NFL season started, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked for his thoughts on the read option. Tomlin dismissed it as a flavor-of-the-month offense.

Having seen Unatego four times this season, I’ve become a firm believer in the offensive scheme. It stretches defenses vertically and horizontally, and the Spartans proved that even an elite squad such as Tioga can struggle to stop it.

With no running game to speak of and two possessions wiped out by onsides-kick recoveries by Tioga, Josh Feyerabend still completed 17 of 25 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns before halftime. It’s safe to say that even if Tioga kept its starters in for the second half that Feyerabend was well on his way to a 300-yard passing day (the reason he nearly threw for 600 is because Tioga opted not to play its defensive starters in the second half).

From his shotgun formation, Feyerabend had time to throw and there were plenty of open receivers in the secondary. Feyerabend had success throwing to the sidelines, over the middle and on screen passes.

That helped Unatego to four legitimate drives. The Spartans moved the ball 49 yards on its second possession, which ended with Feyerabend hitting a wide-open Kyle Spaulding down the left sideline for a touchdown.

The Spartans’ third drive covered 53 yards. Feyerabend hit Ryan Marszal twice, Corbin Henry once and Kellen Komenda once before being intercepted by Jesse Manuel on a first-and-goal from the 10, a pass that was Feyerabend’s lone poor decision in the first half. He threw late over the middle and that gave Manuel the chance to make a play on the ball.

“We tried to force it in there a little bit, but Josh is a sophomore,” Microni said. “He tries to make plays. He’s like a Brett Favre, he’s a gunslinger. That’s what we do and their kid made a good play on the ball. Then they got up a couple of scores and it’s tough to come back.”

Unatego’s fourth possession covered 66 yards and resulted in a touchdown. Marszal and Henry caught one pass apiece, and Komenda had three catches, including a leaping grab in the end zone on a fourth-down play that brought Unatego to 24-12.

The Spartans then ran two plays from scrimmage as Tioga scored five touchdowns over a span of 4:17. One was a fumbled handoff and the other resulted in a 30-yard interception return by Carter Jackson after Feyerabend missed a receiver on a middle screen.

Down, 59-12, Unatego again moved the ball on its last possession of the first half, going from its 43 to Tioga’s 12. The Spartans nearly had another touchdown as Feyerabend lofted a pass to the back-right portion of the end zone on a fourth-down play. Marszal caught it with a Tioga defender draped on him, but an official ruled Marszal was out of bounds. Had that call gone Unatego’s way, Feyerabend would have tied the state record for touchdown passes with eight.

So while it’s true that Feyerabend & Co. beat up on Tioga’s reserves in the second half, it’s also true they played pretty well in the first half.

What happened in the second half bordered on silly, but it was fun to watch.

The Spartans scored on all six of their possessions – five Feyerabend touchdown passes and one Feyerabend touchdown run. Unatego did substitute throughout the second half on defense and Tioga’s reserves took advantage by scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns.

“We had goals at halftime,” Microni said. “We said, ‘Let’s try to get to 40’ and then when we got to 40, we said, ‘Let’s try to get to 50.’ I mean, we scored 50 on Tioga. Not too many teams do that. I’m just happy with our attitude.”

It’s likely Saturday’s touchdown-fest was the second highest-scoring high school game in New York state history.

In 2011, Sayville defeated Lawrence, 78-61, in the Long Island Class III championship game and Newsday reported that as the highest-scoring game in state history.

Tioga and Unatego fell six points short.

Microni said Saturday that the beard he’d been growing as the Spartans won eight straight games will be history today.

But talk of what transpired Saturday likely will continue for years to come. One piece of advice, if you’re planning on bringing up the game to people who weren’t there, you might want to carry a copy of this column in your wallet.

If not, be prepared to hear some fish stories.

Rob Centorani covers high school football for The Daily Star. Email him at rcentorani@thedailystar.com.