A driving drizzle kept coming down, and they kept walking in. When the wind picked up, it made the temperatures in the 40s feel a little colder, but they kept coming, packing the bleachers and lining up four and five deep along the fences surrounding the football field at St. Joe’s Robert T. Scott Athletic Complex.
A total of 6,212 were on hand Saturday afternoon, and they watched Qadree Ollison make history to help his Canisius team finish off a perfect regular season in yet another classic chapter of Western New York’s most storied high school rivalry.
Ollison rushed for a Canisius single-game rushing record 344 yards and all four of his team’s touchdowns as the Crusaders rode a strong second half to a 28-21 victory over rival St. Joe’s.
The win for the top-ranked large school in The Buffalo News poll ended a four-game losing streak to the Marauders, ranked sixth, and gave Canisius (9-0) the Monsignor Martin regular season championship.
“It’s a huge win for our program,” second-year Canisius coach Rich Robbins said of the rivals’ 81st meeting. “We talk about it all week, the stress and the pressure on the staff and the kids, all the alumni, ‘Make sure you get it done, make sure you get it done.’ It just feels really good right now that we did get it done.”
Ollison rushed 39 times, many of them behind a great push from the Crusaders’ offensive line and finishing several of them spectacularly. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder ran for scores of 7, 55, 73 and 41 yards, the last of which put his team ahead for good with 8:42 left in the game.
“Our offensive line is great – I think we have the best offensive line in WNY," said Ollison. “Without those guys I couldn’t do what I did today. I just attribute it all to them. ... I’ve been on varsity for three years and we’ve never beaten St. Joe’s in football. It’s a great feeling.”
Robbins also raved about the Crusader front line.
“Ryan [Hunter, a senior committed to Bowling Green] is a great lineman, but our entire offensive line is good,” said Robbins. “We’re senior-laden up there with Pat Haley, Jake [Muscarella] Emil [DiNardo], even junior David Koeppel. They do an unbelievable job opening up holes for our guys and they did the work in the second half today.”
After St. Joe’s held a 14-7 lead at halftime, Canisius came within 21-20 as the teams combined for three touchdowns in the opening 5:31 of the third quarter (including Ollison touchdown runs of 55 and 73 yards). For a time the game was a duel between Ollison and St. Joe’s senior Ilo Noble, who ran 20 times for 211 yards, including a 71-yard score in the first half.
But Ollison and Canisius wore down St. Joe’s in the second half. Ollison ran 21 times for 254 yards after halftime, giving him more yards in the half than he had ever recorded in a full game before Saturday (his previous high was 251 on 25 carries against St. Francis).
“Some of our kids, I questioned them at halftime,” said Robbins. “I questioned our heart. And they responded. I’m really, really proud of the way they came back, played a great second half and got a big win.”
Said the 6-5, 315-pound Hunter: “He was seeing if we had heart, and we clearly have it. We care too much about each other to let it slip away. Qadree is a great running back, and we were able to pave the way for him.”
Canisius went ahead with 8:42 to play thanks to Ollison’s 41-yard run in which he shrugged off two tackles after bursting through the line and then cruised to the left side of the end zone. A conversion run by junior quarterback Tyler Mascio gave Canisius its 28-21 lead.
St. Joe’s was never able to get past midfield the rest of the game. On St. Joe’s next possession, a fumbled snap gave the ball back to Canisius with 8:33 left. After a Canisius fumble on a fourth-down play, St. Joe’s took over at its 18 with 5:02 to play. After a first down, a big sack by junior linebacker De’Anthony Simpson sent St. Joe’s back to a second-and-21 at its 13. Canisius stopped two plays and then ran out the clock.
Junior Rod Payne had 17 tackles and a fumble recovery for St. Joe’s, which leads the all-time series, 47-31-3.
Canisius (5-0 in league) and No. 2 seed Bishop-Timon St. Jude (3-2) have quarterfinal byes in the Monsignor Martin playoffs.
St. Joe’s (7-2, 3-2) is the No. 3 seed and will host No. 6 Cardinal O’Hara Saturday at 2 p.m.
It is the first time Canisius finished a regular season unbeaten since 1976 (7-0-1) and the first time it won all of its games since 1975 (8-0).
“I’ve been dreaming about this ever since I came to Canisius, ever since I knew what Canisius was,” said the 6-2, 255-pound Haley, who learned of the rivalry from a young age since his father is a Canisius graduate. “It’s just a great feeling, an amazing feeling.”