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Bennett's 4-man relay of RBs off to fast start in Class AA

The Bennett Tigers' four horsemen stable running backs are still brainstorming nicknames.

“The dynamic quadruple,” Justin Campbell suggested in the afterglow of Friday night’s 34-7 victory over Clarence.

“We’re working on trying to find a name,” Ja’Vair Walker interjected.

“Whatever it is,” Campbell said, “we’re going to find something good. We’ve got the best running back group in Western New York, in my opinion.”

The formidable foursome of senior Semaj Clemons and juniors Djae Perry, Campbell and Walker have together rushed for more than 800 yards over the last two weeks. The quartet combined for 486 yards in last week’s win at Lockport, each running his own leg in the 4 x 100 relay, and ground up Clarence for another 331 yards on 26 carries Friday while improving to 2-0 in Class AA contests following a season-opening loss to St. Joe’s.

“They are all tremendous players and I’m lucky to have that four-headed monster,” Bennett coach Steve McDuffie said. “I’m proud of all four of them. All four of them are very unselfish. They share the ball, all four of them are running very hard, all four of them are very, very athletic and we want to ride those guys.”

“We don’t get a lot of carries,” said Walker, who ran seven times for 101 yards against Clarence, “so when you get the ball, you have to execute every time.”

“You have to beat every time you get the ball,” said Campbell, who had 60 yards and a 1-yard touchdown on six carries. “You’ve got to fight for them extra yards and keep going.”

Clemons (six carries, 70 yards, 25-yard touchdown) was a 1,000-yard rusher for the Tigers last season, and led the way with 160 yards against Lockport. But the senior is happy to pass the baton around a backfield that was further bolstered by the transfer of Perry, an All-Western New York honorable mention last year for St. Mary’s.

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“I think we are going to be an amazing team,” Clemons said. “We’ll come out strong in the long run if we keep pushing.”

“We put a lot of pressure on the defense,” said Perry, who carried seven times for 100 yards and a 1-yard opening score Friday night. “You don’t know what we are going to do. We might run, or we might pass. But if we are blocking, we might just run on you the whole time.”

Rotating four fresh-legged backs for four downs and four quarters wears down opposing defenses, McDuffie said.

“Clarence, boy were they tough, and we saw a lot of great hitting and what I would say was a big-time high school collision-type football game,” McDuffie said. “But at the end, we started to wear them down a little bit and I saw my kids start to break tackles and when I kind of started to see that effect happen, that’s when the tide of the game started to change.”

The Tigers never trailed Friday night and took the lead for good in the second quarter when Aaron Smith threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Jakari Nettles to make it 14-7. Devotie Pompey sealed Bennett’s first road win with his 27-yard interception return touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Clarence scored its only touchdown on its second drive when Jack Putney connected with Cole Harris on a 37-yarder to tie the game. The Red Devils (1-2) are now 0-2 in Class AA and face an uphill climb to secure one of four playoff spots in the eight-team division.

Tigers linemen Jihad Loynes, Jakari Nettles and Dremair Herrod, along with linebackers Ronnie White and Perry, tormented Putney, who was a Connolly Cup nominee after totaling 485 yards in last week’s overtime loss to Williamsville North, registering eight sacks and five tackles for loss.

The Bennett blockers also opened up all those holes for the four-man rushing crew.

“You can have all the best skill players in the world but if you don’t have any dogs up front, you’re in for a long day,” McDuffie said.

Bennett was far from flawless Friday night, committing 13 penalties, several before the snap and a few that stalled drives into the red zone.

“If we don’t get a hold on those penalties, it can doom us,” McDuffie said. “If we have 13 penalties next week against Williamsville North, I don’t know if that game is going to go our way.”

Bennett now begins a crucial stretch against last year’s Class AA finalists, back on the road Friday against Williamsville North, and at home against undefeated defending champion Lancaster the following week. Last year, the Tigers were outscored 84-22 in those two games while finishing out of the playoff picture in the program’s  first AA season.

Friday night’s convincing win over a Clarence team Bennett beat 14-13 last year is a step toward contention in Section VI’s largest classification, said McDuffie, who led the Tigers to a Class A championship in 2016.

“I don’t know if we are a finals team yet, I want to make that very clear,” McDuffie said. “I think we took a step towards that. But I also feel like we have a whole lot of things to improve upon.”

“As a whole, we just have to get better,” he said. “Because come playoff time, those four teams that’s in those AA playoffs, trust me, they’ll deserve to be there.”

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