By TIM BIRNEY / Valley Sports Report (Waverly, NY) – I’ve known Waverly football coach Jason Miller for a long time, and like myself, he played on some bad football teams at Waverly.
Miller has been head coach at his alma mater for 21 years, and has ushered the Wolverines into its “Golden Age” of football. His first season, Waverly had just 18 or 19 kids in uniform. This season, the preseason camp in August began with 60 players — grades nine through 12 — on the roster.
He’s built a coaching staff that includes a handful of former players, including his son Peyton Miller, that is a well-oiled machine.
The elder Miller has led Waverly to five Section IV titles, two state semi-final appearances, and now it’s first-ever trip to the NYSPHSAA Class C championship game.
Of course, one of the main reasons the Wolverines will be at the Dome Saturday is once-in-a-lifetime talent in QB Joey Tomasso, who has thrown for more than 8,700 yards and has 100 TD passes — both obviously school records. On top of that, in the last three seasons, Tomasso has rushed for 1,914 yards and 37 TDs.
Tomasso has also been fortunate to be paired with fellow senior Jay Pipher, who has 169 career receptions for 3,025 yards and 30 TDs — again all school records.
This year, the addition of junior Xavier Watson and Kolsen Keathley, to go along with senior Jake VanHouten, give Waverly the most dangerous collection of receivers in Section IV and possibly the state.
The Wolverines also have a pair of solid running backs in junior Payton Fravel, and senior Carter George. Both will make you pay if you concentrate too much on stopping the pass.
Despite all those weapons, Waverly’s offense is driven by one of the best units in Section IV. Jake Benjamin is the lone senior, and is joined by juniors Kam Hills and J.T. Williams, sophomore Troy Beeman, and freshmen Carson Rockwell, and Matthias Welles, at tight end/H-back.
And, perhaps the most over-shadowed unit on the Wolverines is the defense, which has allowed just 29 points in four postseason games — 21 coming against Chenango Forks in the Section IV title game.
The front four of Hills, Benjamin, Beeman and Welles has been very difficult to run against, and it seems like inside linebackers, freshman Ben Shaw, and junior Nate Peters, are in on every tackle.
If you test the perimeter against the Wolverines, outside backers Carter George and Keathley will make you pay.
Of course, there is one more player that is often overlooked, and that’s the kicker. Sophomore Hogan Shaw has converted 66 of 68 extra-point attempts, and also has four field goals, including a pair of 39-yarders.
Perhaps even more important is his ability to drive the ball deep on kickoffs, including many touchbacks. Shaw’s kicks have forced opponents to drive 80 yards or more quite often throughout the season, and the significance of that cannot be understated.