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Bennett returns to state semis after beating McQuaid on Walk-off TD

Photo by Shawn Turri

For the third straight season, the NYSPHSAA Class AA Far West Regional came down to the Section V McQuaid Jesuit Knights and the Section VI Bennett Tigers. The two undefeated foes matched up for the final game of the Far-West Regional schedule this weekend where the defending state champion Tigers defeated the McQuaid 26-21, walk-off touchdown by E’Ryan Lawrence.

McQuaid forced Bennett to punt on the first drive of the night and looked to enforce their will through the ground game on the back of senior running back, John Harding who had nine carries for over 45 yards on the initial drive for the Knights. Harding finished off the drive taking a direct snap and running into the endzone to give the Knights a 7-0 lead early.

The Tigers responded quickly on the next drive when Lawrence hit second gear and was off to the races on a 65-yard touchdown to give the Tigers an 8-7 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Izayon Pierce-Brown forced a fumble and Noah McDuffie was the man on the spot to give Bennett the ball on the McQuaid 28-yard line but nothing came of the strong field position for Bennett.

Later, Sherrad Bennard III heaved a masterful 75-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Meer Thomas in stride to extend the Bennett lead to 14-7 at the half.

The Bennett defensive unit remained stubborn in the run game to open up the second half where the drive was highlighted by a sack from senior Defensive End, Jazier Fluker.

The first six minutes of the third quarter became a defensive field position battle that was eventually blown wide open into a back-and-forth heavyweight match that quickly unfolded.

The McQuaid offense opened the scoring when they put together a long 14-play, 68-yard drive led by junior quarterback, Will DiMarco who completed four passes and rushed for 10 yards on the drive. The drive was capped off by the second rushing touchdown on the day from Harding when he took the direct snap from the one-yard line to tie the game at 14-14.

Bennett answered back with an 82-yard drive of their own led by Bennard III who went 4-for-5 passing on the drive, with three straight passes in a row going for long first downs. He finished the drive on a one-yard sneak for a touchdown. The Tigers missed the two-point conversion - taking a 20-14 lead.

McQuaid’s DiMarco countered Bennard III’s drive with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Dan Geen that saw DiMarco scramble around the backfield evading Bennett defenders before delivering a strike. The Knights made the extra point taking the 21-20 lead.

The Tigers offense set up shop on their own 10-yard line and drove to the opposing 32-yard line until a Bennard III fumble gave the ball back to the Knights.

The Bennett defense stepped up big, forcing McQuaid to punt - which was downed at the Bennett 12-yard line.

On the second play of the drive, Bennard III connected with Lawrence in the air for a big gain down the Bennett sideline. The junior QB then dished out a completion to Jordan Freeman for 18 yards.

A few plays later, Bennard III scrambled for a couple yards getting down to the two-yard line and got up to the line just in time to clock the ball with one second on the clock.

With a trip to the state semifinals on the line, the Tigers came out in their power set and Bennard III handed off to Lawrence who fought through a host of McQuaid defenders to score the walk-off touchdown and was enthusiastically mobbed by his teammates on the field.

Bennard III finished 15-of-25 for over 200 yards and a touchdown through the chilly November air.

Bennett will travel to Cicero-North Syracuse High School to face off against CBA Syracuse, who took town Elmira 49-20 in the other western regional, in the NYSPHSAA Class AA west semifinals.

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