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Big Challenge

Randolph Takes On Defending Champion Tioga In NYSPHSAA West Semis

Randolph running back Xander Hind breaks through the gap in the Far West Regional against Oakfield-Alabama/Elba. Hind and the Cardinals will take on defending state champion Tioga in the NYSPHSAA Class D Western Semifinal today at Union-Endicott High School’s Ty Cobb Stadium. Photo by Mike Frame

Tioga’s football team hasn’t lost a game since April 17, 2021.

That afternoon, the Tigers lost to Newark Valley 29-23.

Since then head coach Nick Aiello — a 2002 Allegany-Limestone graduate — has seen his squad has rattle off 25 straight wins, including a 27-0 shutout of Moriah in last year’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D title game at the JMA Wireless Dome.

Now, the Tigers are one win away from getting back to the championship game in Syracuse.

Randolph stands in their way.

Randolph’s Jaiden Huntington finds room to run after a catch at the Far West Regional against Oakfield-Alabama/Elba. Photo by Mike Frame

The two teams will square off in the NYSPHSAA Class D Western Semifinal at 3 p.m. today at Union-Endicott High School’s Ty Cobb Stadium, which was renovated this past summer.

Brent Brown’s Cardinals are also undefeated this fall, coming off a 42-26 defeat of Oakfield-Alabama/Elba in Monday night’s Far West Regional at SUNY Brockport’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Stadium.

“We kind of built our defense last week around No. 20 (Noah Currier) on the edge. He was fast and really good,” Brown said Wednesday after Randolph completed a practice at Gail N. Chapman Elementary School. “This week, their quarterback runs the ball … and they have a good tailback, too.”

Senior Xander Hind ran a career-high 48 times for 281 yards and five touchdowns Monday as Randolph avenged a 28-22 loss in the 2021 Far West Regional to the same Aggies.

With 2,328 yards on the season, Hind is 208 yards off of Chris Doubek’s Randolph and Section VI record of 2,536 set in the Cardinals’ state-championship season of 2013.

Hind is also up to 4,621 yards for his career — already Randolph’s all-time leader — and within reach of becoming one of about 50 players to reach 5,000 in their New York state careers.

“All of our plays look the same, but they are blocked differently with some different angles or attacking a different guy,” Brown said. “The linemen have to keep all of that straight. When they throw in two or three different fronts, they have to be able to identify it.”

“When you have Xander running the ball,” Brown added, “you give him a crack and he gets 2 yards, then he gets 2 or 3 more after contact. It’s hard to stop.”

Brown knows that Hind’s success and the team’s success go hand in hand. If the powerful running back doesn’t carry the ball more than 30 times for at least 200 yards, the Cardinals are in trouble. Likewise, if Randolph doesn’t keep winning and playing more games, Hind won’t reach the goals he’s set.

“Obviously, he’s going to get the ball a couple of times this week,” Brown said. “Once you get into the playoffs, nobody is really talking about that stuff. If it happens, great. We just have to win.”

The last time the Cardinals played in a state semifinal was 2014 when they beat Aiello’s Tigers 20-8 at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester. That was one game before Randolph clinched its third straight Class D state championship and fifth overall.

“The last time we played them it was like 6-2 in the fourth quarter,” Brown said. “Both teams usually play pretty good defense.”

Tioga has scored more than 40 points in all three of its playoff games. In the Section IV semifinals, the Tigers beat Spencer-Van Etten/Candor 49-18 before topping Delaware Academy 42-14 in the sectional title game. Last Friday at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, they beat Dolgeville 42-6.

“They run a lot of the stuff we run, however we haven’t played them since 2014,” Brown said. “They’ve added stuff. Defensively, we used to see 4-4 all the time. Now, they have a couple of different fronts that they show.”

Junior Drew Macumber leads Tioga with 1,062 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing while fellow junior Ousmane Duncanson has 717 yards and 13 touchdowns.

But quarterback Caden Bellis is also a threat on the ground and through the air. The junior has completed 63-of-94 passes for 1,078 yards and 19 touchdowns against just three interceptions. On the ground, he has run for 494 yards and eight touchdowns.

“They want to run the ball, but their quarterback throws it really well,” Brown said. “They have thrown it quite a bit.”

Junior Valentino Rossi is the Tigers’ top receiving threat with 20 catches for 467 yards and seven touchdowns while fellow junior Evan Sickler has 16 catches for 232 yards and four touchdowns.

“The receivers run crisp routes and the quarterback puts it right on them,” Brown said. “If they throw it, we need to keep everybody in front of us.”

Another junior, Karson Sindoni, has 13 catches for 192 yards and four touchdowns as well.

“They’ve opened things up a little bit. They do some single back, they do some spread,” Brown said. “It’s different after 10 years.”

In the latest New York State Sportswriters Association rankings released Wednesday, Tioga is No. 1 and Randolph is No. 2.

That will change next week if the Cardinals end the Tigers’ reign.

“I don’t know that there’s pressure on anybody,” Brown said. “We’ve played them three times and two of those games were really close. One came down to an extra point.”

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