After Sweet Home won its first six games by an average score of 38-13, the Panthers weren't supposed to spend Week Eight fighting for their playoff lives.
But after a Week Seven loss at Grand Island, Sweet Home -- the class of Class A -- needed a win on Saturday to qualify as a No. 1 seed.
The Panthers responded in a big way, handing visiting Williamsville East a 35-8 setback before an estimated 1,500. The win clinched the Class A North Division for Sweet Home, its second title in three years. The Panthers (7-1, 5-1) will host Class A South runner-up Iroquois (6-2, 4-2) in a semifinal game on Saturday.
The Flames (5-3), bidding for their first Section VI playoff berth since 2000, move to the consolation bowl, where they will play Amherst (4-4).
After a third-quarter collapse against Grand Island the week before, Sweet Home looked like its old self against Williamsville East.
"After the loss at Grand Island, it really hit us," said Sweet Home linebacker Kenny Johnson, who logged 16 tackles, 11 unassisted. "That was the perfect time for a loss in letting us know we were too big-headed, and to let us know we really needed to concentrate and go out there and make plays."
Johnson was one of five players who scored for Sweet Home. Allen Douglas' 44-yard run set up Johnson's 1-yard plunge, and a 72-yard punt return from Brett Vroman gave the Panthers a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.
"We got a couple blocks for him (Vroman), he had a little lane up the left side of the field, and then the rest he did on his own," said Sweet Home coach John Faller. "I think he broke two tackles, stumbled, and still got in. It's great for him because he's worked his tail off."
After a scoreless second quarter, the Flames trailed, 14-0, at the break, but felt confident they could rally.
"The first half we gave them two big plays. They got us on a punt return -- that was a big touchdown -- and then we had their ball carrier in the backfield, we didn't tackle well, and he scooted for a touchdown," said East coach Henry Fumerelle. "I thought we played very well in the first half, just those two big plays."
But the third quarter was all Sweet Home. The Panthers tacked on two more scores thanks to an 8-yard run from Douglas (12 carries, 103 yards) and a 40-yard run from Sean McGee (12 carries, 123 yards).
The teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Sweet Home quarterback Jon McMahon scored on a 2-yard run while Flames wide receiver John Quataroni caught a 26-yard pass from QB Zack Anderson with 2:29 left.
While Sweet Home was running out the clock, offensive line coach Mike Faulks was treated to a Gatorade shower along the sideline, compliments of several players.
Sweet Home held the Flames to 101 yards of offense. Defensive end Eddy Green had Anderson on the run all day, recording three sacks.
The only turnover of the game was a fumble recovery made by lineman Jeff Same of Williamsville East.
The game was the first for Sweet Home without the services of punter/wide receiver Kevin Rae, who dislocated his shoulder last week in gym class.
The Flames' leading rusher, senior Brad Agustin, was ejected in the fourth quarter. According to Section VI Federation rules, he's ineligible for next week's game against Amherst. He's 148 yards short of 1,000 for the season.
"I didn't know what it was," said Fumerelle. "I guess he used . . . I don't know. He had a problem and they were listening for it, I guess. It's a shame."