DUDLEY – The fourth-seeded Hull football team started its Div. 8 state semifinal matchup Friday night by losing a fumble on the opening kick return. It ended with a strong defensive show and a breakout in the second half from an underclassman to beat his first ticket to a Super Bowl since 1996.
After the defense allowed only one goal in the first half to build a small lead against top-seeded Hoosac Valley (9-2), sophomore Nick Tiani – usually not one of the leading offensive players in the game plan – was crucial for the Pirates (9- 2) with three touchdowns in the second half to help stave off the Hurricanes en route to a 39-22 win over Shepherd Hill. All three scores came from 20-plus yards, including an impressive 47-yard TD grip that gave Tiani 118 yards from scrimmage.
Pair it with a couple of forced fumbles, success on the third try and a touchdown from the defense, and Hull did a lot to overcome the opening game.
“Resilence,” head coach Mike O’Donnell said. “They were more angry at themselves (for the start) than the coaches. … Two great games from Nick Tiani (was the difference).”
It only took two games for Hull to return from the error and regain a fumble that eventually turned into an 8-yard touchdown run from Jaden Stilphen for the opening lead.
When John Gianibas returned a fumble 67 yards for another touchdown on the ensuing drive, the Pirates apparently ran free in the first half to a 21-8 advantage as they limited Hoosac Valley to a 1-to-7 conversion rate on the third down.
Aaron Bush was huge for the Hurricanes to come back in the second half by finishing with 164 rushing yards and three touchdowns to almost put up a serious comeback bid. But Tiani just took over.
Every time Hoosac Valley hit Gianibas (138 yards in total), Tiani made it pay off. A 25-yard touchdown run came as he turned the corner for a 27-8 lead in the third quarter.
After Bush responded with a touchdown, Tiani then ripped off a 21-yard touchdown in the same way.
When he caught a perfect ball from Luke Richardson (two touchdowns) to a 47-yard TD attack over the shoulder with 6:10 left to play, the Pirates were almost on their way to the Super Bowl.