Still, the Panthers (13-0) " a Section VI school hailing from the Buffalo suburb of Amherst " had their own source of inspiration. Deshanaro Morris, a star on the 2008 state title team, was paralyzed in a car accident not long after Sweet Home beat BH-BL 35-28 a season ago.
In a wheelchair, Morris led his team onto the field, participated in the coin toss and cheered his team from the sidelines as another championship got decided.
Twice in the first quarter of this rematch, the Spartans (12-1) drove into Sweet Home territory. Both times, the Panthers' defense made key stops, and those missed opportunities would come back to haunt BH-BL in a hurry.
Late in the first quarter, Sweet Home quarterback Patrick McMahon threw deep and found a wide-open Nick Cuviello on a 47-yard pass. This led to fullback Ralph Neasman scoring on a 1-yard plunge early in the second period, and the Panthers led 7-0.
BH-BL appeared to be turning things around when it pinned Sweet Home on its nine-yard line midway through the period. But on third-and-11, McMahon pump-faked, drew in the defense and threw deep to Jahaan Williams in full stride at the 40-yard line. Williams did the rest on a 91-yard touchdown play to make the score 13-0.
Another key sequence came late in the first half. Facing fourth-down-and-inches on its own 41-yard line, BH-BL went for it, and Beatty was stopped short of the first down. Just 49 seconds later, McMahon threw a swing pass to D.J. Nettles, who eluded one tackle and outran the BH-BL defenders to the end zone to give Sweet Home a 19-0 lead.
McMahon completed six of eight pass attempts for 220 yards in the first half.
"You can't give up big plays," Shell said. "At any level of football, two or three big plays make a difference."