The South Park football team went on a magical ride during the 2015 season, and it didn’t end until it brought a state championship back to Buffalo for the first time in not just school history, but the city’s history.
“It’s a little bit unbelievable,” Sparks coach Tim Delaney said.
There’s plenty of credit for that historic 12-1 season to go around, but Delaney certainly deserves a share of it. That’s why he is The Buffalo News Coach of the Year for 2015.
Delaney probably will be asked to review the season countless times in the months ahead. He gives the impression he won’t get tired of telling the story over and over.
“The way we got after Hamburg impressed me,” Delaney said. “We clinched the division pretty early, and that allowed us to be peeking ahead a bit.”
The only blemish on the regular-season schedule was a nonconference loss to powerful Canisius. Even that came with some qualifiers.
“We played part of the game in a monsoon, and I had one kid get kicked out of the game,” Delaney said. “Still, we didn’t know it going in, but we had the best player on the field” in quarterback Tyree Brown.
The Sparks ripped Iroquois in the Section VI semifinal game and advanced to the championship round in Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo teams entered Section VI only six years ago, and none had ever won a football title game – until South Park pounded West Seneca East, 54-30.
With that championship packed away, Delaney’s team accomplished a major goal. While it’s probably wrong to say the pressure on South Park was off at that point, it might have been reduced a notch.
“When we won at The Ralph, every week was our own little season, a little bit of history,” Delaney said.
Brockport fell, 20-7, in the Far West Regionals, setting up a matchup with Maine-Endwell and its 62-game winning streak – a state record.
“Everybody asked about that streak, but we only had to play them once,” the coach said. “Those guys like the quarterback (Kyle Bolmer) and wide receiver (Michael Palmer) are great players, but they didn’t win all 62 of those games.
“And none of that mattered. We were confident that we had the team to play against them. We just said, ‘They haven’t played us.’”
The result was a 43-26 win by South Park that ranks as one of the great victories in Buffalo’s high school sports history. By the time the state championship game against Our Lady of Lourdes arrived, Brown was ready to be fully unleashed. Delaney said there were no worries by the coaches at that point of “maybe we shouldn’t play him so much. He played great for us down the stretch,” the coach said.
Brown ran eight times for 211 yards and four touchdowns in the 49-46 win over Lourdes, as he was simply too fast for the opposition. He also completed 7 of 15 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns, with the scores coming on 40- and 57-yard plays. When he and his teammates were done, South Park had a state championship to celebrate.
“We knew in the offseason we’d be pretty good, but we didn’t know how good we’d be,” Delaney said.
It was more than good enough to record a season for the ages.
Year in review
Until this season, only one team from the City of Buffalo had won the large school title in The Buffalo News’ annual football poll.
Now there are two. Their names are both South Park.
The Sparks’ drive to a state championship in Class A made them the obvious choice to win The News’ crown. They received all 10 first-place ballots.
South Park also won the mythical title in 1993 with a perfect 10-0 record.
By the way, Section VI has won at least one state championship each of the past five years. Orchard Park was a winner in 2011, while Randolph followed with a three-peat (2012-14) and Jamestown also took top honors in 2014.
Canisius had been on top for most of the season. But the Crusaders’ loss in the final of the Msgr. Martin Association playoffs to St. Francis proved costly, as they slipped to the No. 4 spot.
However, no one can accuse Canisius of ducking anyone. Of their nine opponents, five went deep into the playoffs in their respective state playoffs.
In the small-school race, Cheektowaga and Bennett battled more or less on equal terms for much of the year. The difference came at Ralph Wilson Stadium, when the Warriors earned a narrow win over Burgard while Bennett dropped an overtime decision to Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake. Cheektowaga beat Batavia in the Far West Regionals, but lost in the state semifinals to Cazenovia.
The victory in the poll was the first in Cheektowaga history.