Orchard Park – The Bennett Tigers are making the jump to Class A look awfully easy. Moving up from Class C in 2016 they cruised into New Era Field Friday night with a swagger much like the New England Patriots have done for over a decade. Facing the previously unbeaten Starpoint Spartans (9-0), the Tigers offense exploded for 362 yards en route to a 28-13 win.
Senior running back and Connolly Cup hopeful Isaiah McDuffie rushed for 146-yards and scored three touchdowns. He is the head coach’s son and was a handful for the Spartans defense. “We have a saying, We all we got. We all we need” McDuffie said. Adding “We proved that today. Getting here three times and finally winning.” McDuffie is a cool customer who does not wear his emotions on his sleeve. He’s heading to Boston College next fall to play for the Eagles.
Joining the Tigers this season was senior Jamel Lofton who opened up the scoring with a 30-yard rushing TD in the 2nd quarter. “Everybody was blocking well today. I’m just happy to be a part of this. It’s a great feeling” a jubilant Lofton said after the win. “I’m actually really happy for my coach. Happy to help them get over the hump.” Bennett lost its previous two sectional final games. Last season they were defeated in a bitter OT game against Maple Grove. But it was all smiles Friday for coach Steve McDuffie “This game was exactly how I thought it would go, a slug-fest from beginning to end.”
The Tigers led 20-0 in the 3rd quarter before allowing a Spartans touchdown. In addition to having a great game offensively, McDuffie was the catalyst on the defensive side of the ball as well. Finishing with 9 tackles and a fumble recovery.
“My Dad and I have talks at home about what we have to do to win, there’s a lot of offseason preparation that goes into this.” McDuffie said. Coach McDuffie likened Friday’s game to the great boxing matches between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Walking off the field today a winner with his son was a very special moment for coach McDuffie. “My son and I shared a moment earlier today. I told him that I couldn’t ask for a better son. I am very proud of how he’s handled himself, he’s work so hard.”
For Starpoint the season ends for 20 seniors. One of them is lineman Jacob Kiff, a Trench Trophy nominee who plays both sides of the ball. It was a special game in particular for the entire Kiff family as Jacob’s father is battling cancer. On Tuesday during media day Jacob Kiff was excited about having his Dad out in the stands watching him play. “It was a good day, except for the loss of course. We can’t beat ourselves up too much because only 10 teams get here” Kiff said following the defeat. He took solace in knowing his team kept battling till the end. The Spartans scored two TD’s in the final 3:30 of play to make it look respectable. “We weren’t quitters, we weren’t done” Kiff said.
Sophomore QB Aaron Chase threw two TD passes to junior Anthony Robinson in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter that gave the Spartans some hope. But McDuffie’s third TD run proved to be the difference. “I’d rather had the worst game of my life and walked off winners but to make it this far most teams would trade in a minute” Robinson said. Adding “Last year we lost first round, went undefeated this year it’s pretty incredible. I’m dedicated to finishing what these guys (seniors) started.”
The Spartans dropped opening round playoff games the past 2 seasons. This year coach Cavagnaro was successful in moving the Spartans past the demons that plagued his team. “We had a great season, came from behind all year long. Today we just too many mistakes” Cavagnaro said after the game. He’ll reflect on the accomplishments in 2016 but is looking forward to next season already “I got Chase, Robinson, I got a lot of kids to come back too plus a great field.”
McDuffie was very complimentary of the Starpoint coaches and players “They are extremely well coached and have some tough, skilled players.”
The Tigers are trying to become the 2nd Buffalo Public School to reach the state finals and standing in the way is Section V’s Greece-Athena, who has waited 35 years to get to this point. The two teams will meet at New Era Field next Friday at 8pm.
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