When preparing for the first two games of the high school football season, Bennett coach Steve McDuffie had to deal with the hand circumstances dealt him.
The Tigers were missing 11 players in their season-opening, 48-6 loss to West Seneca East and they will be without them for the last time tonight when they face St. Joe's at 7 in All High Stadium.
"We have 11 players out because of the academic policy at Bennett High School," McDuffie said. "We'll try to do the best we can. In the future, I know that I won't be playing very powerful teams Week One and Week Two because of the academic policies at Bennett."
And St. Joe's is a powerful team. The Marauders were ranked No. 3 in the large school poll after opening the season with a 56-34 win over Section V's Wilson Magnet.
Junior quarterback Tyler Hill threw for four touchdowns and 197 yards in his first varsity start as St. Joe's scored 28 points in the fourth quarter. Two of those touchdown tosses were to wide receiver Ilo Noble - one for 70 yards and one for 55 yards.
"I liked the fact that we had some guys who stepped up in last week's game and hadn't been in that role on varsity before," St. Joe's coach Dennis Gilbert said. "We got down early and guys stepped up and some good leadership emerged. We showed some resiliency, which is good.
"I think that we're looking offensively to get our quarterback some more confidence. Every game he plays, he gets better. We were fortunate last week. We made a bunch of mistakes but were able to overcome them. We need to get a little crisper."
McDuffie is emphasizing the play of both lines. The goal for Bennett becomes slowing the game and controlling the line of scrimmage with key players including Khalil Sommerville, Frederick Ross, Shawn Wilson and Willie Adams.
"It's going to be a challenge. St. Joe's is a very well-coached team," McDuffie said. "We're looking to play across the line. I really believe and think that's the power of the Bennett football team. We'll try to slow the game down a bit and keep the ball out of their hands. We'll just get out there and compete. Those guys, they're able to play. They did well in the classroom. I'm not saying we have an advantage, but if we did, it would be with our offensive and defensive line.
"We're just doing the best we can with what we have."
The game will also mark the first time Bob O'Connor is meeting his old program. O'Connor was the head coach at St. Joe's for three decades, compiling 169 wins and 13 league championships. He stepped down in 2009 and joined McDuffie as an assistant coach at Bennett. "I learned a ton from him," said Gilbert, who played three years for O'Connor and then coached with him. "It's going to be pretty neat to be on the field coaching the game on opposite sidelines.
"We're excited about the game. Bennett is less than a mile from our school and a lot of the kids know each other and grew up playing ball together. I think it could become a heck of a rivalry."
Also tonight, West Seneca West hosts Lancaster at 7 on the annual Alumni Night for the Indians. Before the game, Matt Perillo, a 1983 graduate, will be honored. Perillo was a high school football and basketball official for Section VI before he had his lower legs amputated as a result of septicemia, a blood disease caused by bacteria. Both teams will wear special T-shirts and donations will be accepted for the Matt Perillo Fund to help offset the cost of his treatments.
Meanwhile, West Seneca East hosts Williamsville East in a matchup of 1-0 teams. West Seneca East is ranked No. 9 in the large school poll while Williamsville East received votes.
In key matchups Saturday, No. 1 large school Orchard Park plays at Clarence at 7 p.m. The Quakers beat Lockport in their opener last week while Clarence notched a one-point win over defending Section III, Class AA champion West Genesee at the Carrier Dome.
Also on Saturday, Cheektowaga and Burgard meet at 4 p.m. at All High Stadium. Both teams are 1-0.