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Prep Talk: Bennett-Burgard means a house divided for family

It took some prodding, but Arleen Sanders picked a side. She’ll be in Darlell’s camp Saturday afternoon at All High Stadium when the Burgard senior and his Bulldogs teammates try to end the dream season of a Bennett Tigers team that includes Darlell’s twin, Darnell, and younger brother, Jeremiah.

“It’s his last year playing high school,” reasoned Arleen for opting to root for Darlell. “I want to see him make it. … He’s been playing football for a long time so I want to see him make it, go on to college, finish up there and make it to the pros.”

Jeremiah understands why mom is not in his corner.

“I don’t blame her,” the Tigers’ 6-foot-4, 325-pound freshman starting right tackle said. “If he was my senior son, I’d root for him, too.

“I feel as if my mom’s going to be happy for whoever wins the game, but she can lean” Darlell’s way “a little bit.”

The winner will play for the Class B championship next week at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a step no Buffalo Public School has taken in any class since the old Harvard Cup league disbanded and city programs joined the Section VI Federation in 2010. The Buffalo Public Schools could have two teams reach championship week if South Park defeats Hamburg in tonight’s Class A semifinal at All High.

The Sanders family knows, one way or the other, it will be part of history.

Darlell, a fierce middle linebacker, opted to follow in his three older brothers’ footsteps and attend Burgard, while Darnell (the Tigers’ starting right guard who was held back a year early in his academic career) and Jeremiah chose to attend Bennett and play for their youth football coach, Steve McDuffie.

“It’s going to be difficult for both of us” said Darnell of facing Darlell. “If we do our job right, we’ll come out on top.”

Darlell has the backing of the three Burgard siblings (David, Robert and Edward) along with his mom, dad, another brother and a younger sister. Darnell and Jeremiah have on their side an older brother who played last season at Bennett (Lavell) along with two other sisters.

Jeremiah also said there are two older sisters who aren’t football fans.

This isn’t the first time the Sanders’ household has been engulfed by the Bennett-Burgard rivalry.

It last happened a month ago, leading into the Week Five matchup between the Tigers and Bulldogs. Unbeaten Bennett (8-0), the News’ No. 1-ranked small school, survived a physical challenge from the third-ranked Bulldogs (7-1), 20-12. That’s the closest game the Tigers, ranked fifth in the latest state poll, have played all season.

It was a game in which the 6-2, 235-pound Darlell made 13 tackles, got clipped (there was no flag on the play) by the 6-1, 295-pound Darnell and had a great collision with Jeremiah.

“It was really shocking to see them play against one another,” Arleen said.

“They had always been on the same team,” growing up, “so I didn’t know which way to go. … But it was exciting to see them playing against one another.”

Darlell hasn’t forgotten the clip from Darnell. But the best way to get back at him is to win.

“When I’m on the field, they’re not my brothers,” said Darlell, a third-team All-Western New York selection last year. “I’ve been playing football for 10 years. I’ve never won a game that really means something to me like this. ...

“This game, I just feel like I’ve got to win or it’s just like I can’t win games that are big. ... I’m really trying to leave it all on the field.”

So will the rest of his Burgard teammates, who enter the showdown ranked 10th in the state and still smarting from that loss in which Derrick Bishop stripped the ball from Karl Jones at midfield after a long gain midway through the fourth quarter. Instead of the Bulldogs trying to complete their rally from a 14-12 hole, Bennett went the other way, milked clock and scored late to make it 20-12.

“If they win, no hard feelings,” Darlell said. “I’ll be there to support them all the way.”

“The last time doesn’t really mean anything,” said Jeremiah of the Week Five game. “This is more serious but it’s also fun.

“I would like to see Darlell go to The Ralph, but I want to go to The Ralph too,” Jeremiah said. “I want it more, so it’s just going to be a battle. Whoever wins, wins.”