There was a Gatorade bath on the sidelines, and there was a big celebration when the final horn sounded.
Yes, it is still the regular season – but this was that big of a victory for South Park.
The Sparks clinched the Class A South championship on the field of the division’s defending champion Friday night, using a strong defense and a playmaking offense to win at West Seneca East, 22-0, before an estimated 1,100.
“Overall, program-wise, it’s just a signature win,” said South Park coach Tim Delaney. “To beat the A South defending champs and the Section VI runners-up in Class A, it lets us know where we’re at right now.”
South Park (4-1) moved to 4-0 in Class A South with one league game to play, next week at Hamburg. Only West Seneca East (4-1, 3-1) can match South Park’s four wins in A South play.
The win ensures the first Section VI playoff berth for South Park since it – like all Buffalo Public School programs – became part of the section in 2010, and it marks the first league championship for the Sparks since they won the city’s Harvard Cup on Thanksgiving Day 2003.
“That’s been our mentality here at South Park, just being a go-getting team,” said senior wide receiver Brandon Jefferson, who caught a 25-yard third quarter touchdown as well as two two-point conversion passes from senior quarterback Tyler Mascio. “How bad do you want it? That’s all we talk about every day. Go to practice, work hard, and come out for games like this and win big.”
The South Park defense recorded its second straight shutout – last week it beat Lake Shore, 40-0 – prompting players to empty a water cooler over defensive coordinator Nick Todaro.
Offensively, the Sparks controlled the ball for most of the game, including nearly the entire first quarter. Mascio was 11 of 17 for 162 yards as he hit 6-foot, 175-pound Jefferson four times for 73 yards and 6-foot, 170-pound junior Antonio Leonard six times for 62.
South Park dominated on the ground behind senior running back Taron Scott (17 carries, 126 yards) and senior Laron Watkins (10-61), who both got good blocks up front, and also blocked for one another.
“We really got after it on the ground,” said Delaney. “William and Willquan Burgess, standout linebackers – we put them at guards. They’re very selfless players. They made a heck of a difference on the offensive line. T.J. Scott is a heck of a runner, and Laron Watkins is a heck of a runner – those guys are trading carries and blocking for each other.”
The Sparks established control of the game early, owning the time of possession for all but three West Seneca East plays in the first quarter. The Sparks drove the length of the field on their opening drive but were stopped on fourth and goal. South Park had a similarly long drive that lasted into the second quarter and ended with a 1-yard run by Scott on fourth-and-goal.
The defense supplied the next touchdown to give South Park a 16-0 halftime lead. On a third-and-long play deep in WSE territory, William Burgess hit senior quarterback Devin Lindner as he threw, leading to a free ball that sophomore Austin Neal picked off and returned 22 yards for a touchdown.
The very fast Sparks defense rarely allowed West Seneca East in its half of the field. The Burgess brothers, both juniors, combined for 17 tackles while Mascio and Leonard also had interceptions.
By clinching the A South title, one of three Class A divisions, South Park assures itself of one of the top three seeds in the Class A playoffs.
“I think that the kids really understand now and they see the playoffs are here,” Delaney said. “They see the goal that we’ve been talking about: Trying to get to The Ralph, trying to be the first city team to get to The Ralph, and they see that that’s around the corner.”