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Prep Talk: South Park’s accomplishment overshadowed

You have probably heard this story.

An inner-city Buffalo Public Schools football team with championship aspirations, loaded with talent and returnees from a crew that suffered a heartbreaking Section VI championship defeat a year ago, committed 14 penalties in its biggest game of the year at The Ralph two weeks ago.

Fourteen penalties. In one game.

Sounds like the team either has issues regarding discipline, got hosed or both.

Except the team in question made history in a huge way that Nov. 5 evening at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

South Park is the team that committed 14 penalties that day, and the Sparks crushed West Seneca East, 54-30, to win not just their first Section VI Class A football championship but the only postseason title to date in the sport for the Buffalo Public Schools district. The Sparks also matched a Ralph Wilson Stadium record for most points in a sectional final during the win.

South Park did not stop making history with that victory.

The Sparks made more last weekend by winning their Far West Regional contest against Brockport, 20-7, to earn the opportunity of a lifetime Friday night.

In what classifies as a David versus Goliath clash, South Park lines up across from four-time defending state champion Maine-Endwell at 8 p.m. Friday at Cicero-North Syracuse in the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association semifinals.

A Buffalo team in the state final four in the most popular sport in the country. It’s a feat that should have been celebrated all week.

Buffalo Public Schools Athletic Director Aubrey Lloyd also should have been allowed to revel in the accomplishments by coach Tim Delaney’s crew because it was just six years ago when the powers that be disbanded the Harvard Cup League and said ready or not, here we come Section VI Football Federation.

The fact it’s taken a Buffalo football program just six years to reach this point is nothing short of amazing.

There are programs that have played football in the section for a much longer period of time, with more financial resources, that haven’t made it to The Ralph yet.

But South Park has taken a backseat most of this week to ex-Harvard Cup cohort Bennett, giving Lloyd an unexpected headache during what should have been a happy time.

Bennett fans, specifically parents, are still smarting over the Tigers’ one-point, overtime loss in the Section VI Class C final to Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake.

They should be upset with the loss. This was supposed to be their year, with a lineup that included junior and Syracuse-commit and returning All-Western New York first team star Isaiah McDuffie, Marcelus Toliver and a more seasoned quarterback in Anthony Mendrysa – just to name a few.

It’s a tough break for Bennett that this wasn’t its year, but this is why games are played on the field instead of on paper.

Most Class C coaches during the preseason said Bennett was the favorite because of its lineup, motivation for losing in last year’s Class B final to Cheektowaga and having McDuffie, one of the top players in the state.

Bennett missed returning to that class by one student, which is why for most of the season it rolled over most of the Class C teams.

Defending champion Maple Grove/Ch. Lake, a team that’s used to playing big games with a 25th-year coach in Curt Fischer, proved to be the exception in a one-game winner-takes-all clash.

He and his coaching staff figured out a way to keep the game close and nullify the talents of McDuffie while utilizing their own skills to their advantage.

Bennett had chances to win its title game.

It dropped a potential title-clinching interception in overtime. It could’ve handed the ball off more to McDuffie and watched him run wild over a smaller team. Instead, the Tigers came up short in the big moment.

Yes, Bennett was penalized 14 times in its loss, committing several of those infractions at crucial times in the game that may have aided the Dragons in the upset.

But claiming racial bias and filing official complaints to the state and federal departments of education, Section VI and to the NYSPHSAA?

The refs are not out to get anyone in high school sports because of race. They are there to keep things under control and ensure fair play.

A trusted media member who was on the sideline for the entire Nov. 6 game, most of it on Bennett’s sideline, said he heard nothing regarding race uttered by either the officials or Tigers coaches or players.

The referees are human. They are not perfect. They try their best to get the call right. Sometimes they miss and when that happens they feel lower than low.

Just ask Cheektowaga coach Mike Fatta. In his team’s biggest game of the year last week at Far West Regionals in Rochester, a sideline official inadvertently blew the whistle and the play dead on what would have been a sensational 69-yard catch and run down the right sideline. Two plays later Batavia scored to take a 16-point lead late in the third quarter.

The referee apologized to Fatta as soon as he saw the replay on the video. Fatta appreciated the gesture. Still it didn’t make up for the bad call.

Cheektowaga needed to overcome that and will itself to victory. The Warriors did just that, scoring the game’s final 23 points to earn a spot in their second straight NYSPHSAA Class B semifinal.

That’s the point. Sometimes a team needs to overcome adversity, even if it’s self-inflicted, or another’s mistake to be able to achieve greatness.

South Park did just that and from this moment on, the spotlight should be on the Sparks and only the Sparks.

That’s their reward for being champions.


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