SYRACUSE – They did it.
It took nearly every single one of the 49 points they put up on the Carrier Dome scoreboard and contributions from many to achieve it, but the South Park Sparks completed their march toward history by becoming the first Buffalo Public Schools football program to win a New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championship.
They did it by defeating Section I champion Our Lady of Lourdes, 49-46, before an estimated 3,000 in the Class A final on Friday. The Sparks used an avalanche of big plays from quarterback Tyree Brown to overcome incredible performances from Lourdes’ record-setting quarterback Dean Rotger and all-world receiver Luke Timm to achieve the goal Buffalo schools could only dream of attaining when the district’s teams joined the Section VI Federation in 2010.
Brown passed for touchdowns of 40 and 57 yards during a high-scoring second quarter and also rushed for scores of 63, 27, 38 and 44 yards en route to securing game most valuable player honors, and a plaque even more precious to him and his teammates.
“I didn’t think it would feel this good,” said Brown, who in addition to his 217 yards rushing also had 140 yards passing and two TDs along with 11 tackles. “It feels great winning a state championship.
“A lot of people don’t get to do things like this. It means a lot to our community, to our players and our coaches. We worked all season. It finally paid off.
“For our high school to have such a positive story … all the support we’ve received from the community has been fantastic,” said Sparks coach Tim Delaney, who also played for South Park during the late 1990s before becoming an English teacher at his alma mater. “I’m almost at a loss for words. I’m so proud of our guys, There was a lot of adversity today, and there was no quit. … The guys finished the job. They were able to do that against a really good football team.”
They did it against a first-time finalist like themselves in private school Our Lady of Lourdes, a program that struggled for years before turning things around four years ago under sixth-year coach Brian Walsh, who has won 240 games during his long esteemed career.
The Poughkeepsie-based school almost foiled South Park’s quest as Section I’s all-time passing leader Rotger lit up the Sparks defense for 408 yards with his top receiver, Timm (three touchdowns), catching 18 of his 25 completions for 277 yards. Rotger also rushed for two touchdowns and 51 yards.
The Warriors simply had no answers for Brown.
Brown and the Sparks’ offense started terribly in this one, turning the ball over twice and going three-and-out during their four first-quarter possessions. But South Park’s defense, led by Ellijah Winston’s 13 tackles, forced a pair of turnovers on downs and recovered a fumble – all inside its own 20 – to prevent Lourdes from seizing control.
Things changed in the second quarter as the teams combined for 41 points, with the Warriors (10-3) striking first on a 4-yard run by Joe Scaglione to take a 6-0 lead. South Park (12-1) replied on its next possession.
The records will show Brown’s 40-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-7 to Daryl Moore was his second completion of the game but should have been his first as a play earlier a 10-yard bounce pass was incorrectly ruled a completion.
Regardless, the touchdown pass to Moore and ensuing two-point conversion pass to Tony Robinson enabled Brown and the Sparks’ offense to relax and play with the confidence they’ve displayed throughout a playoff run in which they failed to score 40 just once in six contests.
“We just had to calm down,” Brown said.
South Park never trailed after that. Another long touchdown pass to Moore, a 57-yarder, and a 63-yard scoring run by Brown with 2:39 left in the second quarter opened the door for a potential blowout.
That door slammed shut as an onside kick recovered by Lourdes turned into six points 22 seconds later on Timm’s 28-yard catch. Still, South Park went into halftime up, 29-12, as Brown scored on one of his patented ankle-breaking runs, this one a 27-yarder with 1:12 left in the half.
Lourdes pulled within three on a 3-yard Rotger run and a 6-yard TD pass and PAT conversion to Timm with just 6:01 left in the third. Things looked like they would really take a turn for the worse for South Park when Brown left the game after being on the turf for a while following a 13-yard run.
What looked to be a serious injury, though proved to just be a cramp. South Park gained a key first down with him out on a hard, violent run by Austin Neal (12 rushes, 141 yards, 1 touchdown run of 49 yards). Brown missed two plays, handed off on his first one back and then showed on the next he was more than healthy when he ran around left end and broke two tackles during a 38-yard touchdown run that increased the Sparks’ lead to two scores.
With South Park leading, 43-40, early in the fourth quarter, Brown scored again from 44 yards out with 9:09 left. But in a game in which both teams combined for 1,060 yards (543 on 82 plays by Lourdes and 517 on 45 for South Park), one knew this thing would come down to the onside kick after Lourdes’ next score.
It did, as Robinson pounced on it with 2:51 left. With the Warriors only having one timeout, they needed to find a way to stop the Sparks and get the ball back to have a chance to win.
They didn’t, as Brown completed a 7-yard pass to David Thomas on third-and-7 to pick up a first down. Three plays later, Brown took a knee sparking a party and celebrating the fact that the Sparks did it.
They finished the job a week after ending four-time defending champion Maine-Endwell’s record 62-game winning streak.
“Watching the clock go to zero and we’re up in the state championship at the Carrier Dome,” Delaney said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
This is the fifth consecutive season a Section VI team has won a state championship.