On a night in which a brawl led to the suspension of one football game in the area, Orchard Park and Bennett engaged in quite the battle of their own.
Of course, it was one of wills with the physical play occurring in the trenches – not after the whistle. None of the estimated 1,500 left the stands either, at least not until Josh Dahl ran for the big gain that put the Quakers in position to run out the clock.
OP proved to be the more assertive team, as it spoiled the Tigers’ Homecoming, 14-8, in a marquee nonleague contest between ranked large schools.
After No. 10 Bennett gashed its guest for big gains early and often, the Quakers returned the favor with interest. They rushed for 127 of their 191 yards during the final 24 minutes, with Dahl gaining 109 of his 170 after halftime. He had 60 yards on 10 carries during a third quarter in which he rushed for the go-ahead touchdown.
The defense rose to the occasion and twice repelled Tiger marches deep in OP territory with Pat Sullivan and company stopping Bennett star running back Isaiah McDuffie for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the Quakers’ 20 with 5:29 left.
That’s the last time Bennett had the ball as OP handed the ball over to No. 28 – Dahl – over and over again as he ran a career-high 30 times in helping the Quakers bounce back from last week’s shocking final second defeat to Lancaster. A line featuring returning first team All-Western New York lineman Dan Kubik, Connor Houlihan, Tim Darling, Nathan Bauer and Bret Morseon opened holes enabling OP to not only burn the remaining time but also foil a Tigers crew bidding to upset The News’ third-ranked team.
“I tell our guys will, not want, determines destiny,” Quakers coach Gene Tundo said. “Our guys willed the victory today.”
OP made like a hockey team in the playoffs that wants success and played out of character. For most of the past three years, the Quakers’ winning formula included star quarterback Dillon Janca throwing the ball around the field, using the pass to set up the run.
Not on Friday. He only threw 15 times for 44 yards as he now needs 163 yards to move into third place on the all-time Western New York passing yards list.
“This game shows we’re not just a passing team,” said Dahl, whose 1-yard TD run with 8:10 left in the third quarter broke an 8-8 tie.
“Usually we’re not that type of team,” Tundo said. “I was proud we could play that type of game and win it.”
The Quakers needed to show resolve to experience victory, especially after McDuffie had gained 96 of his game-high 184 yards on his first four touches on the Bennett’s first drive of the game. He took the fourth carry 61 yards for the touchdown with Michael Horton running in the two-point conversion. Receiver Kendrick Benson made a great downfield block to keep the last defender from knocking McDuffie out of bounds.
OP tied it early in the second quarter with Janca’s 6-yard TD pass to Nic Bruce and a conversion catch by Dahl.
After that it was just two teams figuratively trading punches. Bennett (4-2) had a chance to go ahead before halftime but with no timeouts and needing to throw, with its backup quarterback, Sullivan picked off a pass at OP’s 8 with 33 seconds left to make sure the teams went into the half tied.
McDuffie took it to the house one more time, an 80-yard run on the Tigers’ first possession of the third quarter except this one didn’t count. The referees made a holding call to negate the play.
What might have been? Instead of momentum-swinging touchdown, a punt gave OP great field position – at the Tigers’ 31 leading to Dahl’s go-ahead score.
While Sullivan blew up Bennett’s final offensive play, linebacker Solomon Brown did that a whole bunch of times for Orchard Park (4-2), finishing with 13 tackles – including 11 solo stops. Griffin Harrigan added six.
“Orchard Park played a great game,” Tigers coach Steve McDuffie said. “Both teams played well. It was a very close game. We played hard and fell a little short. It was a slugfest. Sometimes it’s like that.”
“This is the most physical we’ve played all year,” Dahl said. “I’m proud of my guys.”