Nosebleed Section: 2023 football season will go down in history


Sitting inside the press box at the JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse last Saturday for the New York State Football Championships, I couldn’t help but think back to the second week of the high school season and that two-day showdown between the Tioga Tigers and Waverly Wolverines.

I was in the press box at Memorial Stadium in Waverly over those two days – thanks to a lightning storm that came through just before halftime on Friday, Sept. 8 – and witnessed 5,000 fans from the Valley area show up both nights to watch two talented teams.

The Tigers would earn an overtime win over the Wolverines that day, but it was clear that the epic battle between the two local squads would only help them going forward. That two-day slobber-knocker of a game would help them reach their ultimate goals.

Fast forward three months and the Tigers and Wolverines were both in the Dome and looking to bring home state championships – a third straight for Tioga and the first ever for Waverly.

Let’s be honest, we all knew the Tigers were going to leave Syracuse with another state title – it was just a matter of by how many touchdowns.

Tioga rolled to a 63-14 win over Stillwater and the senior class improved to 40-0 as starters for coach Nick Aiello, who led his squad to their 41st straight win dating back to the COVID spring season of 2021.

While we all expected this group of Tigers – led by quarterback Caden Bellis, running back Drew Macumber, fullback Ousmane Duncanson, wide receivers Evan Sickler and Valentino Rossi and tight end Karson Sindoni – to earn a third straight title, I think it’s important that we don’t take what they accomplished for granted.

Yes, the Tigers were more talented than 99 percent of their opponents they played over the past three years, but this group also put in the work to become three-time state champs. They were in the weight room all year long, went to summer conditioning and never went half-speed during a practice when they were getting ready to play a clearly inferior opponent.

That work ethic starts with Coach Aiello and his staff, who have instilled that into each and every player who puts on a Tioga helmet.

Tioga will be reloading next year with plenty of talented returning players who will be looking to continue this incredible run, but this group of seniors will leave a lasting legacy and they deserve every bit of recognition coming their way.

After the Tigers wrapped up their state title, we had a little break before the Waverly Wolverines took the field at the Dome in Syracuse for the first time ever.

Whereas the Tigers were regular visitors to the state final, Waverly coach Jason Miller had waited a long time to lead his team onto the field at the Dome.

I think most people believed the Wolverines were the favorites against a good Fonda-Fultonville squad led by a talented freshman quarterback. That’s because Waverly is led by a five-year starting QB in senior Joey Tomasso, who is in the top five all-time in New York State in every major passing category.

The only question mark was Tomasso’s health. He was dinged up in the state quarterfinal game and his running ability was in doubt in the title game.

I, for one, assumed that we would see Tomasso drop back to pass about 40 times in the state finals and leave the running for talented players like Payton Fravel, Carter George and Kolsen Keathley.

I should have known if Joey Tomasso was on the field, he was going to leave it all out there.

The senior threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns, but he also ran the ball 13 times for 58 yards and two more scores.

It was a fitting way for the greatest quarterback in Valley history to wrap up his high school career.

While Tomasso put on a show, he had plenty of help from players like Xavier Watson, Kolsen Keathley, Jay Pipher and Jake VanHouten. It has been a complete team effort all year long for the Wolverines and that was certainly the case in the state final.

That team effort includes an incredible offensive line led by Kam Hills, Troy Beeman and Jake Benjamin. Those three were the anchors up front and, along with fellow linemen Carson Rockwell and JT Williams and tight end Matthias Welles, provided Tomasso the time to do what he does best.

If you listened to our broadcast on Choice 102 or WEBO, you could probably feel the emotion from wherever you were listening. When Kolsen Keathley broke off his 78-yard touchdown run with under two minutes left to put the Wolverines up three scores, it felt like the entire Waverly crowd – which was huge by the way – went from being cautiously optimistic to a complete frenzy.

I haven’t listened back to the game yet, but I know myself and coach Tim Smith were going crazy in the press box and we were feeding off the energy of the Waverly crowd.

Keathley’s touchdown ended it, but it was truly fitting that Tomasso got a chance to come out with eight seconds left and take a knee to officially make the Wolverines state champions for the first time.

I could not be happier for the Waverly players and community, but this state championship has been a long time coming for one of the best football coaches in New York. Jason Miller has put together an incredible program and he has pumped out great football players and even better people for over two decades.

Just look at his coaching staff and you will see some of the men he helped mold from young student-athletes to leaders of the next generation of Wolverines.

To see someone who has put in all those hours and helped so many student-athletes along the way finally get his title, was truly a special experience and I am so glad that I got to be on the call for that moment.

This was a special football season here in the Valley. To have two schools just minutes apart both bring home state championships to our little community is probably a once-in-a-lifetime moment – and one that we will be talking about for a long, long time.