Weekly Feature

2018-11-08 / Sports

Lancaster three-peats as Section VI Champion with 17-6 win over Bennett

Sports Reporter

Alex Hejna of Lancaster keeps contain with an open-field tackle of Bennett’s Semaj Clemons during the Section VI Class AA Title Game at New Era Field Friday night. Photo by Jake French Alex Hejna of Lancaster keeps contain with an open-field tackle of Bennett’s Semaj Clemons during the Section VI Class AA Title Game at New Era Field Friday night. Photo by Jake French Three years, three championships. The Lancaster football team defeated Bennett, 17-6, Friday night in the Section VI Class AA Championship at New Era Field to claim their third straight title. They’re now 29-1 against Section VI foes in the past three seasons.

“I never would have expected that for sure,” Lancaster coach Eric Rupp said. “It’s a credit to the coaching staff and the culture that they have put in place and most importantly, the kids. They bought into what we’re doing, and they work harder than anyone. I think what sets us apart the most is just our mental toughness.”

The Legends enacted a measure of revenge against Bennett, which handed them their only loss of the season in week five. The Tigers racked up 42 points and more than 300 yards rushing in that matchup. However, they held Bennett to just six points this time around as the defense came up with several big plays.

“We broke down that film,” Rupp said. “Coach Mansell and his defensive staff made some tweaks personnel-wise and scheme-wise. Our kids just left it all on the field tonight.”

Early on, it seemed like it was going to be a repeat of the first matchup as D’Jae Perry took a handoff 90 yards for a touchdown on Bennett’s first offensive play, putting Lancaster behind 6-0. But the Legends buckled down from there, making sure the Tigers could not take off for big plays.

“We just had to get aligned properly because we had so many mental errors in the first game and we had a mental error on the first play,” defensive coordinator Dave Mansell said. “Once the kids did what we practiced all week, they were fine.”

“The first play, they just caught us,” Rupp said. “We knew the play, but we gave Perry a seam and he’s a great player: he took it to the house. Then on that second play, we just fit wrong on the perimeter. You give those guys a seam and they’re gone. Other than that, our defense was awesome.”

The Legends got the ball back after that miscue and worked the ball down the field for a long drive. Tim Gardner scored from 2 yards out to give Lancaster a 7-6 lead. The teams then traded turnovers and punts before Lancaster got the ball back late in the half and again started moving down the field. The team ultimately settled for a 32-yard field goal with three minutes left in the half to give the team a 10-6 lead.

Bennett quickly went three-and-out and punted the ball back to Lancaster with 43 seconds left. Brandon Wingard had two big catches to get the team down to the 6-yard line with 11 seconds left. Gianluca Fulciniti then hit Brian Martin for a 6-yard touchdown to make it a 17-6 Lancaster lead.

“We wanted to keep their offense off the field, but we found some things we liked on offense,” Rupp said. “Unfortunately, we just had some penalties that put us in a bad situation. I thought our offensive line did a good job of handling them up front.”

Bennett got the ball back to open the second half and moved down the field on a Justin Campbell run and some other nice gains. However, Ethan Jurkowski put an end to the threat with an interception in the end zone. After some more punts and turnovers on downs, Bennett had the ball midway through the fourth quarter and seemed to have scored on a long run. But that was called back. Soon after, Jurkowski picked off another Bennett pass. Lancaster would punt eventually, giving the Tigers one last chance. But Bennett quarterback Aaron Smith threw yet another interception to Jurkowski, icing the game.

“I’m just so proud of our team; we really stepped up,” Jurkowski said. “Like we were saying last week, the hard work just keeps paying off, so we’re going to keep working hard. It was great preparation by everyone on our defense and good pressure. Everything just worked out.”

The Tigers moved the ball somewhat well, but Lancaster’s defense made big plays when it mattered. They forced three turnovers and two more turnovers on down. Holding Bennett to six points is especially impressive when considering they scored 51 points in the semifinal win over Orchard Park. Conor Mahony led the way with 10 tackles and half a sack. Gardner had five tackles and a sack while Dominic Chiarmonte had six tackles and a sack.

“We just did a lot of preparation,” Conor Mahony said. “We watched a ton of film on them this week. The coaches were amazing with film. They picked out the little things that meant a lot to us during this game. We call ourselves the black shirts for a reason.”

The Legends had a tough task Friday night – they had to contain the Bennett running backs and make sure they couldn’t get to the edge while also making sure they got after the quarterback and didn’t allow them to have too much time.

“Our plan was that we were not going to just give them time because they have really good athletes,” Mansell said. “Letting them throw the ball up to their athletes was just not an option. We had to bring five or six all the time. That’s tricky, because if you bring them up the middle and then they run by you on the edge, so we just mixed it up. The kids are relentless. They study; they’re just great kids. They’ve done everything we asked them to. When you come prepared, you can take away teams that are athletically better than you. Bennett’s pretty good.”

Offensively, Brandon Wingard ran 24 times for 107 yards and had five receptions for 48 yards. Jason Mansell went 11-19 for 108 yards.

The team will now move on to the Far West Regional game, where they will have a rematch against Section V Aquinas Saturday at Clarence High School at 3:15 p.m. Last year, they defeated the Little Irish 9-0 in a defense dominated game on their way to the state championship game.

If the Legends are to embark on another state run, they will likely have to rely on their defense. This year’s team is quite different than last year’s, after losing all but a handful of starters to graduation. But the defense has remained strong and even gotten better throughout the season.

“It just feels amazing,” Mahony said. “Our whole unit just knows what we have to do every game. We just love our team.”

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