ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — The consensus top team in Western New York this season cemented their status with a sectional crown Friday night.
Defending Class AA state champions Bennett defeated Lancaster 20-7 to win their third consecutive sectional title at Highmark Stadium, becoming the first Buffalo Public School to win back-to-back-to-back sectional championships in football.
“It’s always harder to beat a team the second time around,” Bennett head coach Steve McDuffie said. “I’m really proud of these kids right now. We’ve got about five to six kids on this team that are Division I kids. I think it always comes down to our preparation.”
The Tigers (10-0) came into Friday with three running backs boasting over 500 yards, and they all played roles in the win.
Ja’Meer Thomas got the Tigers on the board with a 13-yard score in the first, which was followed by a 15-yard touchdown from E’Ryan Lawrence midway through the second quarter that gave Bennett a 14-0 halftime advantage.
“You have me who can take a long run, you have E’Ryan who can take a long run, you have Noah [McDuffie] who can take a long run, so it’s really pretty hard to stop,” Thomas said of Bennett’s talented backfield, which finished with just under 200 rushing yards combined. “It’s really just our line. I got to thank our line.”
The Lancaster (9-2) offense found success moving the ball, but failed to capitalize with points the majority of the night. They managed to bring themselves within a score when Jayden Colon capped off an eight-minute scoring drive at the start of the second half with a one-yard touchdown rush on fourth-and-goal, but Bennett had an answer.
After hauling in a 36-yard pass off a wicked deflection, Lawrence followed it up with his second rushing score from two yards out to make it 20-7 and put the game out of reach.
“It starts with the linemen by running the ball, just punching them in the mouth,” Lawrence said. “On that pass, I just want to thank my QB [Sherrad Bennard III]. He just threw the ball to where I could get it and I got it and made that catch.”
The Tigers defense entered the title game allowing 8.6 points per game, and managed to lower that average against the No. 2 seed in AA.
Arguably their biggest feat of the night took place seconds before halftime, as they forced Lancaster to turn the ball over on downs inside the Bennett 10-yard line. Another redzone stand in the fourth quarter helped preserve their two-score advantage and see out the win.
“Those two goal line stands was huge today,” McDuffie said. “[The defense] showed us who they was today by standing up, standing tall and standing strong … For them to keep them out of the endzone when they was down there two times, that right there was the ballgame itself.”
During the postgame huddle, McDuffie told his team they’d accompished two of their three goals in winning a division and sectional title. The pursuit of that third goal — winning back-to-back state championships — kicks off at 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at Williamsville South, where the Tigers play the winner of McQuaid and University Prep in the Far West Regionals.