By David Yarger
On a cold night at Robert E. Rich All High Stadium, the North Tonawanda Lumberjacks were defeated by the Bennett Tigers, 44-23.
The loss ends the Lumberjacks' season and sends Bennett to New Era Field, home of the Buffalo Bills, to play in the division A finals.
This postseason for the Jacks featured their first playoff win since 2011.
The game started very promising for NT, as the defense pushed the Bennett offense back for negative-19 yards.
After a Tiger punt, the Jacks took over at the 50 and went to work. On this drive, NT featured Joe Dotterweich, as he carried the ball six times for 37 yards and capped the drive off with a one-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal. After a penalty on the extra point, the Jacks decided to go for two and converted after Dotterweich ran up the middle through the defense. The score was 8-0, North Tonawanda.
Bennett got back on track the next drive, as Isaiah McDuffie carried the offense down the field. McDuffie ran for 53 yards on the drive. Jamel Lofton finished the drive off with a 17-yard touchdown and, after a successful two-point conversion, the game was all tied up at 8.
North Tonawanda came back on the field and began to drive down the field. After two run plays, quarterback Zack Woodard hit Austin Tober with a pass for a gain of 29 yards. Then, after three straight Dotterweich runs that fell inches short of the first down, the Jacks faced a fourth down.
Woodard tried to perform a QB sneak up the middle and was stopped, but he backed up and found a hole to his right and ran 20 yards for a Jacks touchdown. After another Dotterweich run for the two-point conversion, the score was 16-8 Jacks.
The NT defense would set up its offense with a perfect situation. The Jacks forced Bennett to turn the ball over on downs. The NT offense had the ball, now with a chance to increase the lead. After a 10-yard run by Chris Labonte, a fumble on the next play gave the ball back to the Tigers.
Bennett wasted no time and, on the first play, quarterback Derrick Bishop threw to Kendrick Benson for a 28-yard touchdown. After a failed two-point conversion, the score was 16-14 North Tonawanda.
The Jacks next drive looked a lot like their last, with a good gain on first down by a Labonte run, and then a fumble on the next play. Bennett recovered once again, and took over at the NT 45-yard line.
On the first play, Bishop threw a pass to Michael Horton, who went up and stole the ball out of the air from the Jacks defender for a gain of 32 yards, down to the 13-yard line. After two McDuffie runs and one Bishop scramble, the Tigers were at the 6-yard line. On the next play, Lofton ran it up the middle for his second touchdown of the night. After a successful two-point conversion, the Tigers took the lead, 22-16.
The next NT possession just kept going downhill. After a short gain, Woodard was sacked and then threw an interception over the middle to Marcelus Toliver.
Bennett scored on the first play, as Benson took an end-around to the end zone for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, and the score was 28-16 Tigers. This would be the score at halftime.
NT received to start the second half, looking to shorten its deficit. After good runs by Labonte and Dotterweich, the Jacks ended up facing a fourth down. On this play, the turnover bug bit again, as Woodard went to pitch the ball to his running back and fumbled. The ball was picked up and ran into the end zone by Toliver.
Bennett scored 28 unanswered points off four straight NT turnovers.
The score was 36-16 Tigers.
On NT's next drive, Woodard hit Tober for a couple big gains, one being a 19-yard completion on fourth and nine. The offense was halted, though, on a fourth and two play, after Woodard's pass over the middle sailed over his receiver.
Bennett would take over and go three-and-out. The Tigers would punt to the Lumberjacks 48-yard line.
NT would get back on the board this drive, as Woodard hit Tober twice for 29 yards. The first reception was a one-handed grab for nine yards, and then, on a third and one play, Woodard threw a high pass to Tober, which he caught for a 20-yard touchdown, fighting off the defender in the process. With 11:26 remaining in the game, the score was 36-23.
Bennett did not seem affected on its next drive after the NT touchdown. McDuffie led the offense down the field once again, highlighted by a 26-yard run that put his team into NT territory. McDuffie carried for 50 yards on the drive, which was capped off by Lofton's third touchdown of the game. The Tigers' drive ate up a lot of time, and the score was 44-23.
The Jacks last drive would end in a turnover on downs. After a few runs and knee by the Tigers, the final was 44-23.
After the game on Friday, NT coach Henry Fumerelle politely declined to talk to media, so he could stick with his team after an emotional loss.
The Jacks played with 17 seniors. There were 37 players on the team. As players walked out of the locker room, the emotion was seen, as players realized they played their final football game as a Lumberjack.
The team finished the season with six wins and three losses.
For Bennett, the Tigers move onto the finals, where they will face off against the Starpoint Spartans, who sport an undefeated record. The Spartans defeated McKinley, 20-13, to reach the finals.
The championship game will be held at New Era Field, home of the Buffalo Bills, at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4.