SANDY CREEK Having secured the schools first Section 3 football title last Friday, the Sandy Creek Comets went right back to work Monday in quest of their next goal.
If you think the Comets are satisfied just making the state playoffs for the very first time, think again. Sandy Creek has accepted and passed every challenge its been presented this season. Another one in the form of a powerful Tioga squad in Fridays state Class D quarterfinals is just another step in the process.
Junior running back/linebacker John Shirley, who scored the winning touchdown last week against Westmoreland, was adamant in his belief that the Comets are in this thing to win it all.
Its why weve worked hard since Day 1. Why we go out every day and try to improve, Shirley said after the Westmoreland game. If were just satisfied by winning a sectional title, all of that hard work and sacrifices weve made wont mean a thing at the end of the season.
Senior quarterback Tyler Swarthout, who threw a big 42-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Hall and contributed 51 key rushing yards last week, was even more to the point.
Today was just a step for us, Swarthout said Friday. We know the next one will be probably tougher, but we havent backed down against anybody this season.
In Tioga, Sandy Creek not only faces a powerful team that routed Groton 52-8 in the Section 4 title game last Friday, but has now ascended to No. 1 in the state Class D rankings.
Sandy Creek moved up to No. 3 after its win over Westmoreland.
Tioga, making a second straight state playoff appearance, features a strong running game and several tough backs. Freshman Jesse Manuel rushed for 272 yards and three touchdowns against Groton as part of an overwhelming 540-yard ground performance by the Tigers.
Any given night, any of our backs can have a huge night, Tioga coach Nick Aiello told the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin. Jesse, hes got that second gear that once he gets in the open field hes tough to catch.
Fullback Tyler Spires, at 205 pounds, is also a threat, as are sophomore twins Brad and Matt Jump.
Westmoreland coach Tom Gates, whose Bulldogs were beaten 55-34 by Tioga in last years quarterfinals, said the Tigers dont do anything fancy, but they do everything well. If youre going to go toe-to-toe with them, youd better be able to stop the off-tackle power play and the sweep.
Gates did say Sandy Creek, with equal size up front, has the ability to do that if they tackle well and dont allow the big play.
Sandy Creeks offense is similar, relying on a sound ground game with backs such as Mason McNitt, Shirley and Hall to tote the ball behind a big offensive line. And although Swarthout has thrown just 49 passes in 10 games, hes shown the ability to hit the big play when opposing defenses concentrate on stopping the run.
And while Tiogas offense has generated 388 points, the Tigers defense might be even better. They held Groton to zero net rushing yards in 21 attempts, and just 116 total yards. Tioga has yielded only 91 points, has posted two shutouts and has allowed more than one touchdown only twice this season.
Tiogas only loss was a 14-8 road defeat against Class C power Waverly on Sept. 14. Waverly finished 9-1 and lost to Chenango Forks in overtime in the Section 4 Class C title game last week.
Last season, Tioga advanced to the state semifinals before losing to eventual champion Letchworth 14-6. Aiello said he and his staff havent mentioned last season at all.
It really says a lot about the kids and the effort theyve put in all year to get to this point, he said. There is where we want to be and theyre peaking at the right time. Were seeing great performances by everybody.
Sandy Creek coach Mike Stevens can say the same thing about his club.
Its been a team effort all the way, Stevens said. Weve had so many kids make big plays, Ive lost track.
And although this is new territory for the Comets, they truly believe they belong.
Were 10-0 and have beaten everybody on our schedule, Shirley said. All I know is that we could play three more games, and that is our goal.