By Mike Pidanick
As the momentum continued Williamsville North’s way, it looked for all the world like Niagara Falls’ run at the top of Class AA was all over.
Willie Lightfoot wasn’t done. In fact, the Wolverines freshman sensation was just getting started.
Lightfoot scored 39 points – including a miracle 3-pointer at the end of regulation – and Niagara Falls rallied for a 72-64 overtime win over the Spartans in a memorable Section VI championship game on Saturday afternoon at Buffalo State College’s Sports Arena.
"I didn’t want to go home," Lightfoot said. "I wasn’t trying to go home at all, whatsoever. I didn’t want to lose, that was it. I don’t like losing. I’m a winner."
And the second-seeded Wolverines won the Section VI championship for the fourth straight season, thanks in large part to a shot that will no doubt go down as one of the most iconic in the history of the storied program. With 8.4 seconds left, North held a 63-60 and elected not to foul and instead play straight defense on Lightfoot, who hit a long 3-pointer that dropped through the hoop with 0.7 seconds on the clock.
"I really thought that was the right play at the time," North coach Chuck Swierski said of the decision not to foul. "We really didn’t even discuss it in the huddle. We forced the kid into a really tough shot that not a whole lot of players make ... but they’ve got the one that did."
Lightfoot scored 32 of his points after halftime - and at one point scored 20 straight Niagara Falls points. He gave the Wolverines their first lead since the first quarter with a 3-pointer with 2:30 left in OT that gave his team the lead for keeps.
"He showed today why he’s special," Niagara Falls coach Sal Constantino said. "He really took the game over at the time when we really needed him. That’s about as good as I’ve ever seen him play ... and we needed every bit of it."
This was a rematch of last year’s championship game but a completely different contest. A year ago, the Falls dominated in a 61-42 victory but this time the top-seeded Spartans were seemingly in control for most of regulation.
"The kids never, ever quit," Constantino said. "The kids just stuck together, played together, and that says a lot about the character of the kids."
Williamsville North led 57-47 with just under four minutes left in regulation but Lightfoot and the Wolverines turned up the defensive pressure and quickly chipped away at the lead. A 3-pointer by Lightfoot cut the lead to 61-60 with 25.4 seconds left. North senior Jacob Belote temporarily saved disaster by snagging a loose ball near midcourt and drawing a foul. He hit both free throws, but that set the stage for Lightfoot’s heroics.
"I just put up a prayer and it went in," Lightfoot said. "I was feeling it. I knew it was going in."
Jaemon Turner added 16 points for the Wolverines (20-3). Standout senior Jalen Bradberry, hindered by foul trouble most of the way, was limited to eight points but contributed on the defensive end, drawing a charge that fouled-out North big man Jonathon Abaya with a minute left in overtime.
"We’ve been jumping on him about playing D and that was a huge play," Constantino said. "I know he didn’t shoot it well, but he did so many other things for us."
Belote scored 18 points to lead Williamsville North (20-3). Abaya added 12 points, Joe Nusall added 10 and Scott Hopkins nine for the Spartans, who were a miracle 3-pointer away from the first Section VI title in program history.
"I guess from a fan’s standpoint it was a pretty good game," Swierski said, "but from my end, it’s devastating."