Defense Wins Regionals: Braves march on after near-shutout of South Park

By CHUCKIE MAGGIO

The Canandaigua Academy Braves have been so talented offensively over a win streak that stretches all the way to game two, that the defensive performances they’ve compiled over that stretch can be easily overlooked.

Save a defense-optional sectional semifinal against Eastridge, Canandaigua entered Friday night’s Class A West Regional Final against Section 6 champion South Park with one of the best defenses in Section 5. The Braves held four teams under 10 points on their run to the sectional championship.

South Park, one of the best teams in Buffalo, figured to score more than the average opponent; the Sparks scored 74 points over their last two games and boasted talented running back duo Keith Jackson and Marqwan Fluitt, as well as dual-threat quarterback Mykell Hepburn and 618-yard receiver Brandan Brown.

Instead of a scoring showdown, South Park didn’t manage points until the fourth quarter. The Sparks’ touchdown was a quick-hitter 35-yard pass-and-catch between Hepburn and Brown, one of few big plays they could muster against the Braves’ stingy defensive line.

By then, Canandaigua had put three touchdowns and a field goal on the board. The Braves scored on their first drive when Bryan Boldrin hit Joey Urlacher for a 29-yard touchdown pass. They added another when Matt Vierhile broke a 58-yard run, with a useful stiff arm in between, to put them up two scores a little over seven minutes into the game.

Vierhile was named the game’s MVP after doing a little bit of everything in the 24-6 victory. He caught two passes for 66 yards, kicked a field goal and three extra points and made what the Canandaigua staff called a “game-saving” tackle on a South Park kick return.

Boldrin facilitated the offense from the QB spot, completing five passes for 109 yards and two scores.

“We came ready to play,” Braves coach Jeffrey Welch acknowledged. “We were able to stop them early, gain some momentum; I think that helped… The game plan was try to get up on them early and limit their big plays. We were able to do that.”

Zachary Wantuck and Dominic Comella served as a viable backfield tandem. Comella posted 129 yards on 29 carries and Wantuck recorded 32 yards on 10 rushes.

While Comella didn’t find the end zone, he gained 34 yards on the drive that all but sealed the deal, setting up Wantuck’s five-yard touchdown three and a half minutes into the second half.

With a defense like the Braves’, a 21-point advantage in the second half of a cold, snowy ballgame is close to insurmountable. A field goal to give them 24 points, the most points South Park allowed all season, was icing on the cake.

Jackson rushed for 97 yards while Hepburn totaled 146 total yards. But the Sparks only moved the chains for eight first downs the entire game.

“The heart and the strength of our team is our defensive line,” Welch said. “Four outstanding players at the high school level, when they’re that big and that athletic, you’re gonna win games even if nothing else is good on your team.

“We’re pretty good at other facets of our team, but those kids are dominant.”

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