BRIGHTON, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Bennett Tigers roared back in the second half for a Monday night football win, continuing on the prowl toward a state championship.
The 20-14 victory at McQuaid Jesuit in the Far West Regional advances Bennett (5-6) to the NYSPHSAA Class AA semifinals against Cicero-North Syracuse (11-1) on Saturday at Union-Endicott. The Tigers beat McQuaid and CNS on their way to the state title game last season.
“Now if you want to be the best Bennett team in history,” coach Steve McDuffie told the Bennett team huddled on the field afterward, “you have to go finish the job.”
Connolly Cup nominee Jayden Lewis ran for 191 yards with two touchdowns, and Ja’Meer Thomas added 130 yards and a rushing touchdown as Bennett came back from down 14-0 at halftime in the Far West Regional victory. Antonio Roseboro made two interceptions, including a leaping grab in the fourth quarter that led to Lewis’ winning score.
“This was a great character win for us today, to go down 14 at the half and come back,” McDuffie said. “It was also a great win for Bennett High School, a great win for Section VI football, a great win for the City of Buffalo, and a great win for all these kids in our family.”
McDuffie attributed his team’s slow start a disrupted routine that prevented Bennett from practicing outside since Wednesday because of the snowstorm that hit the Western New York region.
“Their bodies were still cycling like it was a Monday, because they had missed playing game day,” McDuffie said.
The regional playoff game was postponed from Saturday at University of Rochester to Tom Seymour Field at McQuaid, enhancing the Knights’ home-field advantage while tightening the Tigers’ for the next state playoff game.
“We’re on a shortened schedule, so we are going to go back and get our bearings,” McDuffie said. “We are going to go and prepare to try to get their bodies right so they can peak Saturday when it’s game time.”
The lake-effect to the schedule was the latest obstacle for a Bennett team that forfeited four division wins after Section VI ruled the Tigers used in an ineligible player in the first six games, had two play two state playoff games in five days last year because of a coronavirus outbreak on the McQuaid roster, and was forced to cancel its season during the sectional playoffs in spring 2021 because of its own virus issues.
“I always say, you never know who you really, really are until you are faced with adversity,” McDuffie told the Tigers. “Adversity doesn’t build character. It reveals character.”
Frustrated by fumbles, penalties, persistent wind and the loss of senior lineman Adrian Anderson to injury on the opening series, Bennett revealed its character getting shutout for two quarters and falling behind by two touchdowns.
“When you have a storm, the adults have to be the calm,” McDuffie said. “After we got the kids even-keeled, they came out and performed.”
The Tigers put the ball in the hands of Lewis, a University at Buffalo recruit who also had a big interception late, and behind the blue-chip blocking of Trench Trophy favorite Rashard Perry, who is committed to Syracuse University.
“Everybody saw today, very clearly, why Rashard Perry is one of the best recruits in the Northeast,” McDuffie said. “We let him be our hammer. Along with (Jason) Gwan. And they were able to plow the road for us.”
Lackawanna and Randolph also will represent Section VI in Endicott at the NYSPHSAA semifinals.
The Cardinal won 42-26 against Oakfield-Alabama in the Class D regional at SUNY Brockport on Monday night, and the Steelers won 14-6 against Attica in the Class C regional on Tuesday in Batavia.
Xander Hind rushed for 281 yards and five touchdowns for Randolph, rising to the top of the local leaderboard with 2,328 yards rushing. Hind is 208 yards from the Western New York record of 2,536 set by Randolph’s Chris Doubek in 2013.
Randolph (11-0) plays Tioga (12-0) at 3 p.m. Friday, and Lackawanna (12-0) plays at noon Saturday against General Brown (10-1) from Syracuse.
Iroquois’ Trevor Barry set a local record scoring his 43 rushing touchdown of the season in the Chiefs’ 20-8 loss to Batavia in the Class B regional. Barry finished his junior season with 2,317 yards rushing. His 44 total TDs are second only to Aaron Leeper, the Connolly Cup winner from Jamestown who scored 47 (42 rushing) in 2000, in the WNY record book, and 14th in state history.
Jamestown lost 49-34 at Hilton in the Class A regional.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.