Al Bruno is a frequent contributor to both American Football Monthly and Gridiron Strategies. The following article was written by him on the 2015 season for South Park High School in Buffalo, NY.
The 2015 South Park HS Football Magical Season,
By Al Bruno.
Teacher and Writer
The 2015 South Park High School football team, the Sparks, successfully accomplished their training-camp mission and welcomed the ensuing magical ride by narrowly defeating Our Lady of Lourdes, 49 to 46, in a thrilling, nail-biting, state championship class A match-up at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Winning the state title is not only a first in South Park school history, but a first for the city of Buffalo’s, proud sports history as well.
To Lourdes’ credit, the section one champs, the Warriors responded; they were relentlessly and offensively driven in this exciting, back-and-forth, championship shootout, staging their own courageous and memorable fight to the competitive end.
The South Park Sparks started off terribly, turning the ball over twice and going three-and-out during their four, first-quarter possessions. In the second quarter, both teams scored a total of 41 points, and South Park led at the half, 29 to 12. South Park senior quarterback Tyree Brown threw two touchdowns to Daryl Moore, connecting on 40- and 37-yard passes. The super-fast Brown was then unleashed, sprinting into the clear and away from Lourdes’ defenders, up the right sideline, for a 63-yard touchdown with 2:39 left in the second quarter.
In the second half, however, the South Park Sparks regrouped and came out with a fierce resolve: Sparks’ Coach Tim Delaney urgently challenged his players to give everything they had, leave it all on-the-field, and employ “a championship mode” now. They bonded, and then they executed. The offensive line dominated and physically imposed its collective, championship will on the Lourdes’ defensive front, pancaking defenders and creating gaping holes, off-tackle and up-the-sidelines.
Lourdes’ defense had simply no answer for Brown’s speed. Brown had a spectacular game and season, elusively jump-cutting and scampering by potential tacklers, right and left. He was virtually unstoppable that day and rushed for four touchdowns of 63, 27, 38, and 44 yards, totaling 217 yards.
Brown passed for two touchdowns of 40 and 37 yards, totaling 140 passing yards. He had a combined total of 357 yards from scrimmage on South Park championship day – an amazing, athletic performance. Brown delivered his record-breaking best when his Sparks’ teammates and Sparks’ Coach Delaney needed him most – against Lourdes.
South Park linebacker Elijah Winston played exceptionally well with 13 tackles, forced two turnovers, and recovered a fumble. Winston was all over-the-field, stuffing and stifling the talented, Lourdes’ running backs. On defense, Brown also had 11 tackles from the safety position as well.
Lourdes responded offensively with numerous scoring drives of their own again and again in the second half, keeping it nervously close and battling right down to the final minute of play. Trailing 49 to 46, Lourdes attempted a desperate, onside kick that failed and was recovered by the Sparks, gloriously ending the South Park magical season.
Lourdes’ senior quarterback Dean Rotger threw for a total of 408 yards. Rotger completed 21 out of his 27 passes to senior receiver Luke Timm for a total of 277 receiving yards, including three touchdowns. Timm, too, was remarkable and unstoppable that day. His 6’5″ size, arm length, and crafty crossing patterns over-the-middle kept the South Park defensive backs off-balance and out-of-sync all day long.
“I didn’t think it would feel this good, winning a state championship,” stated an emotionally and physically exhausted Brown after the win and season. Brown was named Player of the Year for NY State Class A. To honorably note, Brown is the first Buffalo Public Schools player to win the award since its inception in 1972. He was also named Player of the Year by the Buffalo News.
“For our high school to have such a positive story a lot of people don’t get to do things like this – there was no quit today. We finished the job, and we beat a really good football team,” proudly stated Sparks’ Coach Delaney afterwards.
A South Buffalo native and a 1998 South Park graduate as well, Delaney won the Harvard Cup Championship in Buffalo as a player in 1996, under then Sparks’ Coach Jerry Obstein. Sparks’ Coach Delaney was selected as New York State Class A Coach of the Year. The 2015 South Park magical season, 12 wins and one loss, was just a little shy of a work of football perfection. South Park’s only loss was, a very close one, and it came against an always high-powered, reigning Class A champions, Canisius High School, 23 to 20.
The South Park Sparks powered their way through the playoffs. In the semifinal round, South Park ended the football reign of Maine – Endwell’s 62-game winning streak, decisively defeating them, 43 to 26. Brown was a one-man, wrecking crew again out there for the South Park Sparks. In that game, South Park scored on two of their seven turnovers and takeaways, while Brown rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns, passed for 203 yards, and grabbed two interceptions from the safety position. The last time the section six champions lost was in the 2010 state quarterfinals to section three’s Whitesboro.
The championship-driven South Park team broke Maine – Endwell’s competitive heart. We all know that great winning streaks do eventually and unexpectedly come to an abrupt and undesired end. That is a reality and a painful part of life. Prior to the loss, Maine – Endwell’s winning streak was televised in a 30-to-30 ESPN feature story.
In the regional final, South Park defeated Brockport, 20 to 7, capturing the regional championship and the right to advance to the state final four by methodically outplaying the Blue Devils. South Park senior wide receiver Dave Thomas finished with 286 all-purpose yards, returning a punt 89 yards for a touchdown bomb and catching a 65-yard bomb, down the left sideline, for another score. South Park earned their way into the state final four and a meeting with Maine-Endwell.
In the sectionals, South Park pounded West Seneca West, 54 to 30. South Park became the first Buffalo Public Schools team to win a section six championship for the Class A title. Brown accounted for five touchdowns, passing for 274 yards and rushing for a team-high 76 yards. South Park wide receiver Dave Thomas finished with 96 yards on four receptions, caught three, two-point conversion passes, rushed for a two point-after attempt, and also scored a rushing touchdown.
This South Park football epic is an urban, rags-to-riches, football story of mythic proportions, winning an unprecedented, sports honor for their high school and the city of Buffalo. The joy and exhilaration of winning the state championship in football is really a dream come true for any football coach. But when you simultaneously and momentously lift the entire city of Buffalo to a new competitive height as well, the achievement warrants a special honor, endearing the city’s appreciation and indelibly imprinting their stamp into Buffalo’s sports lore.
Less than a week after becoming New York’s public high school football champions, the South Park coaches and the cheerleaders visited Mayor Byron Brown, who declared December 2 as South Park Sparks’ Day. The group then traveled to the next meeting of the Buffalo School Board where they received a hero’s welcome and a standing ovation from all in attendance.
Buffalo board member Sharon Belton-Cottman was among those who congratulated the South Park team and offered words of praise, saying, “We do not often hear very positive things about our students and our district. But you guys put a smile on the entire districts’ faces.”
South Park Principal and Terry Schuta, a South Buffalo native and a 1978 alumna, was in proud attendance, beaming with Spark joy. She reflected afterwards, “I can’t believe the support we have here today for South Park Sparks’ Day. We are so very proud of our boys, Coach Delaney, and his assistant coaches for their great efforts and achievements this year. It really is unbelievable.”
Few coaches get the unique opportunity to win both a championship as a player and win a more laudable, state championship as the head coach of his or her own alma mater. It is a lofty goal that most coaches can only dream of and almost never achieve in their coaching careers: It is, seemingly, an anomaly and simply unreachable for most. That is probably why Sparks’ Coach Delaney, deservingly, was named the choice for the Coach of the Year by both the Buffalo News and the Buffalo Bills as well, earning three coaching honors in all.
Looking to the future, Sparks’ Coach Delaney has certainly instilled very high expectations, and the goal always is to make the playoffs, and somehow magically win another state championship. He is only 36 years old and is heading into his 10th year as the Sparks’ Coach. He was the “Spark,” literally and figuratively, that envisioned the team dream and ignited the record-breaking, winning ride into the making of the 2015 South Park magical season.
Prior to taking over the South Park football reins, Sparks’ Coach Delaney reflected on his early days as a young head coach at age 28, saying, he inherited a hapless and winless, South Park football program that had plummeted into a losing, downward spiral, dating back to the 2000 season and sinking to an all-time, competitive low in 2007. The records indicate, in fact, that the South Park Sparks only managed to score a worse-than-horrible, 12 offensive points for the entire, eight-game season.
Next, in part two, Sparks’ Coach Delaney discusses how he positively guided and grew the South Park football program. Poignantly, he describes the obstacles, even the tragedies, in supporting and shaping his players into first-rate competitors, and then football champions. His extraordinary experience is truly a rags-to-riches story about a scantily-resourced and struggling, city program that finally found its “Spark” in the modern-day, in 2008, passionately and fully committed, sometimes seven days-a-week. He is still there, still persevering, and still excelling at coaching football.
Coach Delaney is paying that investment forward with the energy and the love he pours into his efforts at South Park in the classroom, on the football field, and most importantly, in the precious lives of the young men he coaches, imparting good sportsmanship and inspiring excellence in young men. It is a story that needs to be told because it has now become the valuable property of Buffalo’s sports lore.