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Takeaways fuel Clarence to Class A sectional title

By Jerry Sullivan

Photo by Calvin Phillips

There’s a weekly ritual at Clarence football practice. Chris Dickson, the defensive coordinator, calls it “Turnover Tuesday,” where the defense runs through four circuits that emphasize the importance of taking the ball away.

“The other day, the week of the section championship, I put the practice plan together and I didn’t put it on there,” Clarence head coach Paul Burgio said late Thursday night. “Chris calls and says, ‘Put it on there. We’re going to get turnovers.’ “ They sure did. The Section VI Class A championship game turned into Turnover Thursday, as the Red Devils got six turnovers — in the first half alone — in a resounding 43-16 victory over Lockport at Highmark Stadium.

Clarence (11-0) won an 11th game for the first time in school history, moving on to the Far West Regional next Friday 8 p.m. at Williamsville South against the Section V Class A champion.

The Red Devils capitalized on Lockport’s ham-handed ways to roll to a 30-8 lead in the game’s first 16 minutes. David Van Horn had two of his four rushing touchdowns and fellow junior Jeff Long had two short TD runs in the first half.

Shey Williams had 206 yards from scrimmage for Lockport, including a 53-yard touchdown run and a 60-yard reception on an inside toss play on the very first play of the second half. But Clarence never wavered from there.

Clarence emphasized the run game with standout quarterback Bryce Tubin still nursing an ankle injury. Tubin threw for 151 yards, but senior quarterback Chris Cummins ran the attack in a lot of the team’s double-wing formations.

“He’s a gutsy kid, but you could see I ran him only once,” Burgio said of Tubin, who has completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,251 yards this season. “That’s a big part of our spread when we can run him. So he’s going to need more therapy and get through the week, and he’ll be ready.

“The kid’s a warrior, in practice and in the film room. I’m blessed to have that kid, and he’s back next year. Thank God.”

Van Horn also will return. He missed four games early in the season with a concussion, including Clarence’s 28-26 victory over Lockport. He was ready for a big workload in the final, when he rushed for 91 yards on 18 carries.

“That was the whole game plan,” Van Horn said. “Bryce messed up his ankle, so Cory stepped up as a leader and we got things done. It meant a lot. The first game I sat on the sidelines and watched my team win. I knew this time I had to show up for my team to win the title.

“It just feels great. All I care about is the team winning and going on to regionals.”

Burgio, who has been the Clarence head coach for seven years and on the staff for 33, knows how challenging the road can be. Clarence was 10-0 in both 1998 and 2010 before losing in the Far West Regionals — in overtime to Aquinas in ’98 and to Rush-Henrietta in 2010. Both went on to win a state title.

“So, I guess we’re due to move on in these state playoffs,” Burgio said with a smile. He said his team would be eager to prepare for the next step on the journey, starting with film work on Friday.

“These kids aren’t going to want to stay home,” he said. “I know these kids. They’re going to be there at 8:30 in the morning.”

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