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State semifinal football previews, featuring Bennett, Lackawanna and Randolph

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Class AA Far West Regional Football

Bennett's cheers by holding up their trophy after his team's beat McQuaid Jesuit in the Class AA Far West Regional at McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester on Nov. 21, 2022.

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Here are previews for this weekend’s New York State Public High School Athletic Association state semifinals at Union Endicott High School.

Class AA

Who: Bennett (5-6) vs. Cicero-North Syracuse (11-1)

When: Saturday, 6 p.m.

How to watch: nfhsnetwork.org.

What to expect: It’ll be a rematch of last year’s state semifinal, which Bennett won, 38-0, on its way to a runner-up finish in the state championship game. That game was played on the Northstars' home field.

It’ll be interesting to see if the result will be similar this year of if Cicero-North Syracuse can hang with the Tigers.

Bennett had a season-defining win in its Far West Regional matchup against McQuaid Jesuit, as the Tigers trailed 14-0 at halftime, and then scored 20 unanswered points in the second half. The last two quarters belonged to senior and University at Buffalo commit Jayden Lewis, who scored two touchdowns and a two-point conversion. He finished with 191 yards rushing.

In the playoffs, Lewis has shown why he's a Connolly Cup finalist and a candidate for the Dick Gallagher Buffalo News Player of the Year Award. He’s been dominant on offense whether running or receiving and on defense in the secondary. He had three touchdowns on five receptions for 147 yards against Lancaster in the sectional final. Lewis also ha a receiving touchdown in the sectional semifinal against Orchard Park.

Bennett has so many offensive threats. Seven players have at least 25 rushing attempts, and six of those players have at least 295 rushing yards. When it comes to receiving, Lewis has the bigger name, but junior Ja’Meer Thomas, who currently holds an offer from the University of Akron, has shown he’s one of the best receivers in the area. Thomas has 30 receptions for 669 yards and nine touchdowns.

As for Cicero-North Syracuse, the Northstars are in the state semifinals for the fifth consecutive season. Their lone loss this season was by one point, 42-41 to Christian Brothers Academy in Week 3. They avenged that defeat by beating CBA, 34-20, in the Section III final.

The CN-S' offense relies heavily on the run. The Northstars have six players with at least 20 carries, led running backs LaQuan Lemon (815 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Anthony Johnson (480 yards, six touchdowns). Quarterback Jaxon Razmovski is a dual threat with 1,737 yards passing and 12 touchdowns through the air and 531 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Razmovski's favorite targets have been  Tristian Johnson (510 yards, seven TDs) and Nathan Williams (500, five TDs).

Don't overlook the Northstars' defense as C-NS has allowed 22 points or less in every game except the loss to CBA and shut out Corning Painted Post, 36-0, in the Central Regional.

What's next: Winner faces either Albany Christian Brothers Academy (Section II) or Newburgh Free Academy (Section IX) for the state championship at 3 p.m. Dec. 4 at the JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse. 

Class C

Who: Lackawanna (12-0) vs. General Brown (10-1)

When: Saturday, noon.

How to watch: nfhsnetwork.org.

What to expect: It’s been a special season for Lackawanna. The program is once again one of the best teams in the state and the Steelers are two victories shy of their first state championship since 1998.

In the run game, Lackawanna is more than likely giving the ball to senior Antwan Threeths. He leads the team in carries with 148, 90 more than sophomore Amir Douglas, who has 58. Threeths has rushed for 1,138 yards and found the end zone eight times. Douglas has 414 yards on the ground with seven touchdowns.

Senior Billy Gechell is Lackawanna’s quarterback, and he has completed 56.3% of his passes and averages 8.8 yards per attempt. His top receivers have been senior Shyheim Smalls, with 36 receptions for 534 yards and 12 touchdowns, followed by senior Ashlin Alexander-Hall, with 26 receptions, for 451 yards and nine touchdowns.

Smalls also leads the team’s defense with 90 tackles, but the big name on the Steelers' defense is senior Sunday Ikegwuonu, a Trench Trophy finalist. He’s third on the team in tackles with 79, but has a team-high 13 sacks. Threeths and senior Chamarr Ware each have three sacks.

Lackawanna beat Section V champion Attica, 14-8, on Tuesday as Getchell and Alexander-Hall connected on a 21-yard touchdown reception and Getchel ran in a 2-yard touchdown.

General Brown will test Lackawana’s rushing defense. Quarterback Aidan McManaman has only 61 passing attempts on the season compared to his 81 rushing attempts. He has thrown seven touchdowns and only one interception and run for five scores.

Senior Kaleb Natali is tied for first on the team in rush attempts with 145, and leads in yards with 1,189 and touchdowns with 14. Senior Gabe Malcolm has 1,035 rushing yards on 110 attempts and 12 touchdowns. Senior Sheamus Devine also has 145 attempts, with 894 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Lions' only loss was by three points, 30-27, to Adirondack in Week 5. They have won six in a row since then, scoring at least 30 points in five of the six games. General Brown advanced with a 29-14 victory against Waverly in the Central regional.

What's next: Winner faces either Warrensburg/Lake George (Section II) or O'Neill (IX) for the state championship at 6 p.m. Dec. 3 at the JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse. 

Class D

Who: Randolph (11-0) vs. Tioga (12-0)

When: Friday, 3 p.m.

How to watch: nfhsnetwork.org.

What to expect: When Randolph repeated as sectional champions, the Cardinals celebrated, but had their minds on getting revenge against Oakfield-Alabama/Elba in the Far West Regional, as the Aggies had ended the Cardinals season a year ago. In this year’s meeting, Randolph got the gratification it was looking for with a 42-26 victory. Randolph is in the state semifinals for the first time since winning the state title in 2014.

The game against O-A/Elba was a masterclass in how to create a masterpiece, as Randolph senior Xander Hind carried the ball a career-high 48 times for 281 yards and five touchdowns. Hind, a reigning All-WNY first teamer, is the heart of the Cardinals' offense. 

For the season, Hind has 265 carries for 2,328 carries and 30 touchdowns. Of course, Hind’s ability to find the end zone creates double-take stat lines, but part of the success should go toward the offensive line and defense. Randolph is a team that plays defense by committee, with seven players having at least 40 tackles, including Hind with 55. 

The 26 points that O-A/Elba scored was the most Randolph has allowed this season. In the seven previous games, only two teams reached double figures (Franklinville/Elliocottville scored 14 in the sectional final; Wilson had 14 in Week 6).

Tioga is the defending Class D state champion and has won 25 consecutive games and 29 of its last 30. Its last loss was to Newark Valley in the second to last week of the Fall II season played in the spring of 2021. 

The Tigers, who are averaging 46.5 points per game, are led by junior Drew Macumber, who has 112 carries for 1,062 yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s averaging 96.5 rushing yards per game and has eclipsed 100 in four games.

Two other top rushers for the Lions are junior Caden Bellis and junior Ousmane Ducanson. Bellis has 494 yards and eight touchdowns on 62 carries. Ducanson 717 yards and 13 touchdowns on 55 carries.

Defensively, Tioga has only allowed two opponents to reach 20 points and is allowing an average of 10.9 points per game. 

What's next: Winner faces either Cambridge/Salem (Section II) or Moriah (VII) for the state championship at noon Dec. 3 at the JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse. 

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Sports Reporter

Born and raised in Boston, MA. My experience includes The Boston Globe, The Arizona Republic, The Athletic, The Tennessean, Bleacher Report and NBC Sports Northwest. Open to suggestions and connections: Cmurray@buffnews.com

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