The Orchard Park football players lingered in the cold November rain before walking off the field following their home finale.
Soaking in the afterglow of their 21-14 comeback victory against Bennett, the Quakers embraced the elements and celebrated a return to the Section VI Class AA championship game at New Era Field for the first time in three years.
“This is what you sign up to play football for,” quarterback Jack Sharp said. “It’s awesome.”
The Quakers (8-1) will face three-time defending sectional champion Lancaster (7-2) next Friday night in a rematch of their Oct. 11 encounter that OP came back to win 21-20 at Lancaster.
“These kids watched lots of Orchard Park teams play at The Ralph almost every year so it’s huge for our kids to get back there,” coach Craig Dana said. “It’s really hard to beat a team twice, as we saw tonight with Bennett. Playing Lancaster, three-time defending champions, it’s going to be a very tough game. We are going to have our work cut out for us.”
Sharp was awarded the Quakers’ oversized "big-play chain" after throwing for 116 yards and a touchdown and running for 65 yards and another score through the wintry mist of light snow and rain. Steven Kulikowski added 100 yards rushing.
“Our offensive line was fantastic today,” said Sharp, the Section VI leader in passing yards (1,971) and touchdowns (25).
Mike Pataky led the OP defense with 14.5 tackles, four coming behind the line of scrimmage, and received OP's inflated "hard-hit hammer."
Bennett played without two its stars as All-Western New York tailback D’Jae Perry missed the game due to a knee injury while starting linebacker and second-leading rusher Justin Campbell served a suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit in the Tigers’ quarterfinal victory.
“I thought we played great and gave a valid effort but we definitely missed our two studs,” Bennett coach Steven McDuffie said.
Devotie Pompey did his best to make up for the missing star power, running for 136 yards and two touchdowns, throwing a two-point conversion to Devonte Prince, and making a leaping interception in the red zone for the Tigers.
Devotie Pompey is a magician - this now-you-see-me-now-you-don't 34-yard TD ties the game for Bennett. This @SectionVI Class AA semifinal is live on @SPECNewsBuffalo now @wny_football pic.twitter.com/CTVTZ4bL5p
— Ted Goldberg (@TedGoldbergTV) November 1, 2019
“Pompey played a great game,” McDuffie said. “I thought he was the best player on the field, even though we came up short. I really think he established himself as a first-team All-Western New York player.”
The Quakers took the lead on their opening drive when Sharp scored on a 1-yard keeper.
Pompey weaved his way to a 32-yard touchdown that put the Tigers ahead late in the first quarter. He made it 14-7 on a 47 sprint the end zone in the opening minutes of the second half.
Sharp connected with Peter Liberatore on a 40-yard touchdown on fourth-and-6 to tie the score midway through the fourth quarter. Later in the third, Sharp sliced the Bennett defense for a 72-yard touchdown run that held up for the winning score.
💪Flex on 'em, Jack Sharp 💪 the @OPQuakersFB quarterback runs 70 yards to paydirt, and @op_athletics takes a 21-14 lead over Bennett in the Class AA @SectionVI semifinal @SPECNewsBuffalo @Jacksharp02 pic.twitter.com/JOm557Xs3y
— Ted Goldberg (@TedGoldbergTV) November 2, 2019
OP’s defense held up to force turnovers on downs twice in its own territory in the fourth quarter and Jonathan Lander sealed the victory with his interception in the final minute after Al McDuffie blocked a punt to give Bennett the ball at the OP 47.
“Getting this win was outstanding,” Pataky said. “We haven’t been to the stadium since 2016. We were all motivated to get back.”
Pataky was on the sideline for nearly all of OP’s win at Lancaster in the regular season after sustaining a head injury.
“This team is the definition of family,” Pataky said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world and if we play together as a family like this, we can’t be beat.”