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End of the line for Bennett as Athena advances to final four

Bennett didn’t just lose a football game Friday night.

It lost its athletic identity, as the final team to represent the traditional Bennett High School officially has no more games to play.

Greece Athena saw to that personally at New Era Field as the Trojans ended the Tigers’ run, 41-12, in the Class A Far West Regional between first-time state quarterfinal participants.

Tavon Granison and Kenny Speed proved to be too tough to stop or contain before an estimated crowd of 1,000. Each had a hand in unbeaten Athena’s first five touchdowns, including two apiece during a first half in which the Trojans rushed for 235 of their 331 yards.

There have been entire games this season where the Tigers didn’t yield that type of yardage. Greece Athena made a fast Bennett team look like it was running in slow motion on the all-weather surface at the home of the Buffalo Bills.

The Trojans were faster and more elusive than the Section VI champions, especially their dual-threat, playmaking quarterback Granison. As a result, they earned the right to play in next Friday’s state semifinal at Cicero-North Syracuse High School against Central Region champion Whitesboro of Section III.

“I just give all respect to Greece Athena,” said Tigers senior Jamel Lofton, who rushed nine times for 52 yards and made six tackles. “Great team. They have great speed, great coaching. We just had to come better prepared.”

The defeat prevents the football team from adding one more unforgettable memory to the sports legacy of the tradition Bennett High School.

The school’s other student-athletes play on teams at Middle Early College. That’s a result of an attempted phase out of the Buffalo Public School by the district due to academic issues.

New leadership called an audible, deciding to reboot the school – calling it Computer Academy of Technological Sciences at Bennett. It admitted freshmen for the first time in three years last September.

The district hasn’t announced the role athletics will play in the revamped school.

For now the blue and orange fades to black with players and coaches from the school’s first and final Section VI football title earning legendary status among a prestigious alumni list that include hall of famers Bob Lanier, Curtis Aiken and Larry Veronica.

Still, the Tigers wanted more. They wanted to join South Park as the only former Harvard Cup member to win a New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championship.

“I’m just really grateful to have the chance to add to the legacy of the Buffalo Public School,” Lofton said. “Just couldn’t reach our goal this season.”

Athena prevented that from happening, even after falling behind 6-0 as Bennett marched down the field with ease on its opening possession.

Lofton and fellow senior running back Isaiah McDuffie took turns gashing the Trojans defense with McDuffie scoring the first of his two touchdowns via a 12-yard run just 1 minute, 22 seconds into the game.

That failed to rattle the Trojans. They responded with three swift scoring drives to seize control for good.

Granison, whose running and passing ability conjured up memories of South Park playmaker and 2015 News Player of the Year Tyree Brown, scored on a 63-yard a mere 57 seconds later. After a three and out and punt return gave Athena a drive at the Tigers’ 15, Speed punched it in on the second play from 9 yards out.

The Trojans needed just three plays to go 74 yards for its next score with 3:44 left in the quarter as Granison completed a 32-yard pass to Kyle Benham and then capped it with 30-yard TD run.

Granison finished with four touchdowns, passing for scores of 18 and 6 yards during the second half. He rushed 17 times for a game-high 185 yards and completed 12 of 20 passes for 148.

Speed finished with 89 yards receiving, catching TDs of 35 and 18 yards. But all Bennett did after this one was rave about the play of Granison, who proved to be unstoppable.

“He’s a great quarterback, definitely a D-I talent,” Bennett senior linebacker Marcelus Toliver said of the 6-foot, 193-pound Granison.

Late in the fourth quarter, tempers flared briefly between the teams but officials broke up a minor scrum following a taunting exchange between two players. Only a Bennett player was ejected.

“You know it got a little chippy at the end,” Tigers coach Steve McDuffie said. “I understand it’s an emotional game. … Some of them were really hurting. I told my kids we want to play hard, but we want to represent the city well. We want to represent Section VI well. Hopefully they learn from that. … The refs were able to keep it under control so I applaud them for it.”

Isaiah McDuffie, the Boston College commit, led Bennett with 124 yards on 13 carries and made nine tackles in his final high school game. Athena reduced his effectiveness.

In fact, the Trojans had most of the answers as they limited the Tigers’ big-play abilities after the game’s opening possession and outgained the hosts 448 yards to 284.

Athena’s reward, it gets to play next week, Bennett doesn’t.

“I didn’t expect it to end so early,” Toliver said.

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