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Bennett beats Clarence 36-7 in home opener, defense dominates

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Charging out of the steel doors and running to the field yelling “Let’s go!” in their bright orange uniforms were the Bennett Tigers.

They were taking the field at the renovated Robert E. Rich All High Stadium, and the Tigers were happy to be home. Bennett had every reason to be excited as it hosted Clarence in its home opener.

It was also the Tigers' first game in New York State since their appearance in the state Class AA championship game last season in Syracuse.

During pre-game stretches, Bennett coaches walked through the aisle created by the players and dapped all of them up. The energy throughout the team was palpable.

It translated to the game as Bennett rolled past the Red Devils 36-7.

"Clarence came in here and fought," Bennett coach Steve McDuffie said. "It was a football game. It was a battle, and that's what we expected. Their kids did a fantastic job."

Bennett’s size and strength were too much for Clarence (0-2) on both sides of the ball. Coming off a week with 52 carries and 251 rushing yards, the Tigers (1-1) again relied on their rushing attack. Senior Cureem Hathcock had nine carries and 99 rushing yards. In the first half alone, he had 61 yards.

As the second quarter ended, a highlight of the half was junior Jameer Thomas catching a pass from senior captain Antonio Davis III and zipping down the field for a 40-yard reception.

What made his run so impressive was the crowd's reaction as his footwork made multiple Clarence defenders miss tackles. At the end of the play, the public address announcer complimented him, saying, “looking like Tyreek Hill.”

Thomas finished the game with 67 receiving yards, 36 rushing yards, and a touchdown. Davis II ended the night with 149 passing yards, and went 9-for-11. Following a six-yard reception in the third quarter, Thomas was injured and was on the ground for a few minutes, wincing in pain. He was eventually helped off the field with what looked like a lower body injury, and McDuffie would later say he was cramping.

"That part is where I have to take a little bit more ownership and trust me, they'll be doing a lot more sprinting in practice this week," McDuffie said.

To start the third quarter, Bennett scored on its first drive and continued to exhaust the Clarence defense mostly in the rushing game, with only a sprinkle of passing. Sophomore Shamier Land was the team’s primary option to begin the quarter, tallying 30 yards and a three-yard rushing touchdown.

On Clarence’s first drive of the second half, the Devils' offensive approach clearly changed. Instead of trying to rush the ball, they focused more on passing. It disrupted Bennett’s defense, as the Red Raiders were making plays. With under four minutes left in the third quarter, quarterback senior Dylan Rifenburg connected with senior receiver Tyler Ryan for a 44-yard touchdown.

Clarence got on the board and converted the extra point to make it a 22-7 game. Their offense had some momentum, but their defense couldn’t match it, as Bennett’s Hathcock scored on the next drive with a 24-yard rush.

"He's a senior, and that's we expect from him when he carries the football," McDuffie said. 

When Clarence had another opportunity to end the quarter with some points, Rifenburg was intercepted by defensive back Aaron Roseboro. Through the remainder of the game, the Red Devils didn’t put together another scoring drive.

"I think we still got more work to do defensively," McDuffie said. "I think we're too talented on the defensive side of the ball. I was really proud of the kids for coming out and playing hard. I saw a whole lot of things we can correct and get better that will help us execute better."

Bennett’s defense looked good against Clarence. They were quick to tackle, had active hands to disrupt passes, and would group tackle more often than not. They'll take it on the road next Friday at 7 p.m. in Ohio against Austintown Fitch. Clarence’s next appearance will be their first league game of the season against Niagara Wheatfield.

"Fitch is a powerhouse program, and we have a lot of respect for their program," McDuffie said. "I like my guys, and I know they like their guys, and we're going to put our cleats in the ground and line up and give our best effort and make all of Western New York proud of us."

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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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