SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Buffalo’s best football team asserted its state supremacy on the big domed stage.
Bennett won the NYSPHSAA Class AA championship in a resounding rout, 42-8 against Newburgh Free Academy on Sunday in the JMA Wireless Dome at Syracuse University.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” Bennett coach Steve McDuffie said. “This means the world, not only to these kids, but to represent the high school of Bennett, Western New York and the City of Buffalo.”
Having lost the state title game on the same field exactly one year ago, Bennett’s first state title avenged that defeat, as well as a controversial midseason sanction that threatened to derail its championship run. The Tigers (7-6) went undefeated after forfeiting four division wins when Section VI ruled that the program did not complete required transfer paperwork for a freshman player until after the season’s sixth week.
“All of the adversity that we had through Section VI really brought us together and made us a more tight-knit family,” McDuffie said. “If we look back on this 20-30 years from now, it will always be special.
“And I’ll make a prediction,” McDuffie mused. “We will always be the only state champion that is 7-6.”
Bennett is the second Buffalo Public Schools football team to claim a state championship, joining South Park, which won the Class A title in 2015. This is the sixth time since NYSPHSAA formed its largest classification in 1996 that a Section VI school has won the AA championship, and first since Jamestown in 2014.
“We did it at the highest level,” McDuffie said. “So we’ve got bragging rights for a whole year.”
McDuffie reflected on the Buffalo district’s move to disband the Harvard Cup league and join Section VI a decade ago.
“I remember 10 years ago, people told us our kids weren’t capable of doing this,” McDuffie said. “But I finally got the opportunity to say — look at us now.”
Dressed for the occasion in orange, white and blue uniforms, the Tigers’ explosive offense scorched the turf on Ernie Davis Legends Field, and a stifling defense made its share of game-changing plays.
“I feel amazing right now,” said senior lineman Rashard Perry, a Syracuse recruit. “I just want to celebrate. It was a good, hard-fought win. Through this whole season, we have been through ups and downs, with everybody rooting against us. But we showed everybody that we stay humble, disciplined and respectful, and push through all of that.”
Bennett got three long touchdowns from senior standout Jayden Lewis and two from junior speedster Ja’Meer Thomas.
The Tigers got off to a roaring start in building a 30-0 lead before halftime.
Lewis burst out of the gate for a 77-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. The University at Buffalo recruit finished with 169 yards rushing on 12 carries and 60 yards on three receptions, along with an interception.
Thomas scampered 80 yards to score on a fumble return, and Lewis plunged in for his second 2-point run to put Bennett ahead 16-0 early in the second quarter.
Antonio Davis III then tossed a pair of 25-yard touchdown passes to Thomas and Lewis. Thomas’ second score came after he made a leaping, one-handed interception over Newburgh’s 6-foot-8 receiver Deondre Johnson, a Rutgers recruit.
Lewis reversed field for a 39-yard touchdown that gave Bennett a 36-8 lead in the third quarter.
Shamier Land’s 55-yard touchdown run put the finishing touches on the championship victory with 2:12 left in the fourth quarter.
“Buffalo football is not to be slept on,” Perry concluded. “We proved that tonight. There’s nothing else to say. We are the best team in the state.”
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.