Blame it on the weather. Blame it on playoff jitters.
For whatever reason, Bennett was all out of sorts during a first half in which it struggled with tackling, defending the pass and sustaining drives.
But the Tigers found their mojo in the second half, and their Section VI championship dreams remain alive and well.
No. 1-seed Bennett scored all of its 24 points during the second half to defeat fourth-seeded Grand Island, 24-7, on Friday night in a Class A quarterfinal clash at All High Stadium.
An estimated 1,000 braved the rain and cold, but the Bennett faithful didn’t have much to cheer about during the opening 24 minutes. In fact it looked like it might be curtains once and for all for the Bennett athletic name as the football team is the last to represent a school that has been rebooted by the Buffalo schools district.
The Tigers got physical, and Bennett did not fade away.
The Tigers amassed more yards on their first possession of the third quarter (56) than they did the entire first half (44) and rolled from there to advance to the semifinals for the third straight season in a third different classification.
“As long as they come out and continue to do what they’re doing I really believe we can play with anybody,” winning coach Steve McDuffie said. “ Today those kids came out today and fought for each other and I think that’s what they’re finally realizing. If this is going to be our last hurrah, let’s do it for each other. … I think they grew together as a team and got a little bit closer.”
Player of the game: How about two of them from Bennet. Isaiah McDuffie rushed for 102 of his 143 yards during the second half, scoring touchdowns on runs of 1 and 5 yards. McDuffie’s first TD gave Bennett the lead for good 4 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The other is his backfield mate Jamel Lofton who rushed for all 94 his yards on 10 second-half carries, scoring the first of Bennett’s four second-half touchdowns with a 9-yard run.
Play of the game: Nigel Robinson wrapped up Grand Island running back Jim Thorpe for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Grand Island 43 with 9 minutes, 56 seconds left and the Tigers nursing a 12-7 lead.
Four plays later, McDuffie scored on a 5-yard run to make it 18-7.
GI in control: A turnover opened the door for Grand Island to take the lead on a 3-yard Thorpe run in the second quarter. The first half did not feature much offense as both teams opted for ball control with the Vikings picking their spots to complete pass plays to extend drives.
A bad snap foiled a Grand Island bid to add it its lead late in the second quarter as it suffered a loss of 16 on the play, going from third-and-9 at the 15 to fourth-and-forever and punting.
Records: Bennett 6-2, Grand Island 5-3.
Next: The Section VI semifinals. Bennett faces North Tonawanda, which defeated Iroquois 20-16 in another Class A quarterfinal.