Maine-Endwell’s historic football win streak is a thing of the past.
The Spartans turned over the football seven times in a 43-26 loss to Buffalo South Park in Friday night’s Class A state semifinal at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.
It was the program’s first loss since a 2010 state-quarterfinal setback at the hands of Whitesboro, and the streak ends at a state-record 62 games.
South Park quarterback and offensive MVP Tyree Brown rushed for three touchdowns and passed for another as the Sparks advanced to the championship game Nov. 27 in the Carrier Dome.
The lead was South Park’s for keeps once Brown rushed 9 yards for a TD 5:11 into the third quarter. That score made it 22-14 and came two plays after an 8-yard Spartans punt.
M-E (11-1) drew within 22-20 on a 65-yard rush by quarterback Kyle Balmer with 2:40 to play in the third quarter, but South Park responded with scoring plays of 70 and 43 yards in a span of under three minutes bridging the third and fourth quarters— the second one on a fumble return after an errant pitch by Balmer.
“Turnovers. That’s really it,” said Balmer, who experienced a trying night for the Spartans. “Can’t win a game with, I don’t even know_ five? Six? And that’s on me. Can’t win a game like that.”
Maine-Endwell, playing in the semifinal round for a fifth consecutive season, lost four fumbles and Balmer was intercepted three times— a startling turnabout from what is ordinarily a model of offensive efficiency.
Part of the reason was South Park, a first-time Section 6 champion which moves on to face Poughkeepsie’s Our Lady of Lourdes in the title game. Lourdes was a 47-27 winner over Amsterdam in Friday’s other semifinal.
The Sparks invaded M-E’s backfield space repeatedly, making a perfect mess of too many offensive intentions.
But such was not the case early, when Maine-Endwell appeared to establish itself as the superior squad on the turf.
Linebacker Brady Wisniewski blew up South Park’s third offensive play and a subsequent punt left M-E the football at its 43.
On the fourth play of the drive — and two snaps after Balmer drew an encroachment penalty on third-and-2 — fullback Cordell Woolfolk maximized high-quality blocking to rush 36 yards for a score over the right side 4:05 into the contest.
Travis MacDonald and Michael Palmer were instrumental in the next three-and-out for South Park, and the second punt gave M-E the ball at its 41. Woolfolk gained 23 yards through another spacious gap on second down, and two plays after that Kevin Barrett made his way through considerable congestion to the right sideline and completed a 29-yard scoring rush.
Scott Clark rushed for two and it was 14-0 midway into the quarter.
All appeared well with the Spartans, the streak and a fifth consecutive Week 13 of climate-controlled football.
South Park drew within 14-8 when David Thomas returned 55 yards for points with a fumble lost by Balmer while on the move looking to pass. M-E’s sideline personnel took great exception to the ruling, but nevertheless it was game on.
The Sparks drew even on the second-to-last play of the half when Brown finished a 73-yard drive by sneaking across from the 1. One snap before, Brown rushed for 10 on third-and-1.
The Sparks’ Billy Rivera recovered a fumble by Balmer two plays into the second half at M-E’s 41, but the Spartans denied points on that possession. South Park’s go-ahead points, the 9-yard rush by Brown, came a play after Austin Neal gained 34 on first down.
The Spartans’ next fumble came two downs later.
Balmer’s 65-yard score began when he tugged from the fullback’s belly, started right, spotted something the other way and drifted clear across the field to score. With the board reading 22-20, Clark appeared to cross the goal line with a two-point equalizer, but was ruled short.
A 70-yard crusher of a scoring pass from Brown to Thomas came with 1:43 to play in the third quarter. Brown heaved deep-middle and Thomas got between and slightly behind defenders Balmer and Palmer to make a catch at the 35 and continue in virtually unmolested.
That made it 28-20 with 1:43 to play in the third, and Daryl Moore’s 43-yard return of yet another Spartans fumble — to go with Brown’s two-point run — extended the Sparks’ lead to 36-20 with 44 seconds of the final quarter elapsed.
Barrett rushed for 95 yards, Woolfolk 76 and Balmer 73 for the Spartans, who went for 292 on the ground as a team.
South Park’s Brown closed with 205 yards passing on 11 completions to go with 104 yards rushing.
“Just like we thought, they’re super-athletic and they ran to the ball,” Spartans coach Matt Gallagher said of South Park. “They caused some of those turnovers, some of those turnovers were ours but .. I’m still super proud of our guys.”
“They gave us some trouble and they caused us to turn the ball over. Today just wasn’t our day.”
The Spartans entered the contest as the top-ranked team in Class A, South Park as the No. 3 squad.