There is no nonleague game for the ages on the current scholastic football schedule involving defending Western New York champions quite like last season’s Canisius-at-Jamestown clash.
That doesn’t mean the current slate is lacking a potential nonleague-game-of-the-year. In fact, Saturday’s docket features two games that fit the bill, including a No. 1-versus-No. 2 contest.
The only bad thing regarding No. 1 Small School Bennett’s visit to No. 2 Large School Orchard Park and fourth-ranked South Park’s tango at state and News No. 1 large school Canisius is that both games start at the same time.
That means the casual fans who just want to see a good game involving unbeaten powers will have to choose between heading to Quaker Field in Orchard Park or the Stansky Complex in West Seneca for the 1 p.m. tilts.
The good still outweighs that lone negative, as the games provide all participants a chance to test their mettle against foes who all have championship aspirations – especially the ex-Harvard Cup members. For South Park and Bennett, the games are another opportunity for the Buffalo city schools to show just how far they’ve come since joining Section VI in 2010.
“In general for city football, it shows that we’re willing to play the best because we want to be the best,” said coach Tim Delaney, whose South Park Sparks are ranked ninth in the state in Class A.
Bennett has most of last year’s Class B runner-up squad back in the fold but had to drop to Class C due to a dip in enrollment. Members of the Tigers (2-0), though disappointed they had to drop a class, still wanted to play a top large school and requested as much when it came time for section brass to determine nonleague games.
Since 13-time Class AA champion Orchard Park, ranked fourth in the state, tends to be a program most teams look to avoid, the section matched up the two squads.
Coach Gene Tundo, who has guided the Quakers to two state titles, has a lot of respect for Bennett, which is ranked second in the state and has outscored its foes, 108-21.
“It’s all semantics … they’re a good football team,” Tundo said of the school’s size classification being immaterial heading into the game. “They’re well-coached. They’re strong, they’re smart. … Their offensive line is huge. They run the ball well.
“Their quarterback has a great arm. Their receivers are fast as lightning. ... Defensively they’re good. Their special teams can return punts and kickoffs for touchdowns. They’re a challenge for anybody.”
The game will definitely have its share of talent on both sides. Junior Dillon Janca leads an OP squad that has outscored its foes, 84-7. He’s passed for 458 yards and six touchdowns, completing 56.3 percent of his throws. Teammate and middle linebacker Ronnie Shul (12 tackles per game) leads a defensive unit that has proven to be fast and nasty.
Syracuse-commit Isaiah McDuffie leads Bennett in rushing (336 yards, 13.4 per carry), touchdowns (five) and tackles (20). Teammate Marcelus Toliver has rushed for 200 yards and averages eight tackles, while linebackers Tyshawn and Tysheen Mingo each average seven tackles. Quarterback Anthony Mendrysa has passed for five TDs and 450 yards.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing Orchard Park,” Tigers coach Steve McDuffie said. “We understand if you want to be the best you have to beat the best and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The other marquee game has its fill of talent, too, but the intrigue lies in the fact that Class A runner-up South Park (2-0) has a good number of starters back from last season, while Canisius does not. The Sparks’ lineup has also been bolstered by the additions of two transfers – sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sanders (from Bennett) and senior receiver/defensive back David Thomas (Canisius). Senior quarterback Tyree Brown qualifies as the “X” factor for South Park as he can make plays with his legs and arm. He’s passed for five TDs and rushed for four. He has nine carries for 161 yards and 482 yards on 14 completions.
Canisius (2-0), the defending state Catholic champion, brings an 18-game winning streak into the contest. The three-time defending Monsignor Martin champions seem like they should be the unquestioned favorite in this game, outscoring its foes 65-7 in the first two games behind the big-play ability of senior quarterback Tyler Stranahan (184.5 yards per game, 62.1 completion percentage) and classmate Justin Jones (31.3 yards per catch, three TDs, 6 tackles per game). But coach Rich Robbins says the Crusaders still are a work in progress.
“We definitely have our hands full Saturday,” Robbins said. “We’re just a young team. As I keep telling our guys we have to get better every week.”
That’s because Canisius’ schedule is a bear. It includes St. Joe’s, Aquinas, St. Francis, Timon, DePaul Catholic (N.J.) and Cathedral Prep (Pa.). Robbins included South Park in that list with good reason.
“Do I think we can beat them? Absolutely,” Delaney said. “I’m not going to schedule games I don’t think we can win. … As much as we want to win this game, we want to win our last game. If you win your last game, you’ve probably had a good year.”
Week Three kicks off Friday with a plethora of quality division clashes, including West Seneca East at Class A South foe Hamburg and Starpoint at Grand Island in a battle of Class A North unbeatens. Jamestown has its home opener against Class AA South rival Lancaster.