Who: VI-Bennett Tigers (10-1) vs. III-Cicero-North Syracuse Northstars (9-2)
Where: Cicero-North Syracuse High School, Cicero.
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Live stream: nfhsnetwork.org
State semifinal history: This is Bennett’s first appearance. C-NS is 0-3, losing in 2017 (Lancaster), 2018 (V-Aquinas) and 2019 (V-McQuaid).
Coaches: Bennett, Steve McDuffie, 11th season (64-35). C-NS, Dave Kline, seventh season (50-9).
Rankings: Bennett is No. 3 in the Buffalo News large schools poll and 11th in the state Sportswriters’ Class AA poll. C-NS is ranked 13th in the state.
Bennett key players: Sr. RB/DB Dominac Allen (171-2,156-22 TDs; 41 tackles, 2 INT, 7 passes defensed); Sr. RB/LB Torey Anderson (97-881-7; 17 PAT runs); Jr. DE/LG Rashard Perry (97 tackles, 15.0 TFL, 20 sacks, 9 hurries); Sr. WR/LB Jayden Lewis (12-412-5; 63 tackles, 11 INT, 8 passes defensed, 7 TDs).
C-NS key players: Sr. RB Jason Bartlett, So. QB Jaxon Razmovski, Sr. WR Vincent Lattanzio, Sr. WR Mason Ellis, Sr. OL Tavores Flournory.
How they got here: Bennett defeated Section V champion McQuaid 26-14 on Tuesday in the Far West Regional as Jayden Lewis recorded two interceptions, returned a pick-six 65 yards, caught a 53-yard TD pass and set up a Dominac Allen 75-yard touchdown run with a fumble recovery. Allen had two TDs, while Rashard Perry had nine tackles and three sacks.
C-NS defeated Section IV champion Corning Painted Post 20-16 as Anthony Testa’s 4-yard TD run provided the winning points.
Pre-snap read: Adrenaline and anger can be powerful motivators. With that in mind, Bennett should embrace the "us against the world mentality" after the Tigers’ request for an extra day of rest was denied by the NYSPHSAA due to event logistics. Bennett had hoped to play this game Sunday. Logistics didn’t matter when NYSPHSAA moved the Class AA Far West Regional from Saturday to Tuesday due to McQuaid getting a temporary restraining order in response to Erie County’s attempt to prevent the Knights’ unvaccinated but Covid-19-negative players from participating.
On the field, Bennett coach Steve McDuffie said C-NS’ offense is similar to Lancaster’s (sound running game with good play-action passing). That means the Tigers must play disciplined and execute their assignments while being physical. However, their desire to assert their will must not lead to mistakes (missed tackles or penalties), or the Northstars will make them pay. Bennett must find ways to unleash Rashard Perry, as he threw McQuaid’s offense into chaos with his ability to pressure ball carriers.
On offense, the Tigers must spread out C-NS and let their athletes get loose in space. They also must do a better job of holding on to the ball. They only lost two fumbles against McQuaid, but they put the rock on the turf five times in the game.
Bennett must trust the process. It has taken the team this far.
Next: The winner advances to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class AA championship game at 3 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse against the East Regional semifinal winner. Section I's Carmel meets Section IX's Newburgh Free Academy at 6 p.m. Saturday at Middletown High.