Someday, maybe decades from now, members of Canisius’ 2012 football team will come across a piece of paper that the team received from its coaching staff in the preseason.
At the top of the sheet is a goal that many around Western New York might have scoffed at.
“11-0. Perfect season.”
Canisius accomplished just that Saturday, finishing off one of Western New York football’s finest seasons over the last decade with a hardfought 28-20 victory over Bishop Timon-St. Jude in the Monsignor Martin Association championship game.
A crowd of about 3,000 spent a sunny afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium watching Canisius record a program-record 11th win, completing its first undefeated season since 1976 (7-0-1). It is the first undefeated season for a Monsignor Martin Association large school since St. Joe’s went 10-0 in 1998.
“It’s been an amazing 11 months, from the workouts they did in the weight room in the offseason to the commitment they made,” said second-year coach Rich Robbins, whose team finished a 4-7 season last year by losing to St. Joe’s by one point in the MMA semifinals. “We talked about it inside our locker room – 11-0. I don’t think a lot of people outside our locker room believed we could do it.
“Our No. 1 goal was 11-0 – perfect season. Eleven-and-0, perfect season, Monsignor Martin Association championship. Today, we realized those things. It’s a real special feeling. I’m so proud of my staff and the kids.”
Canisius’ unblemished schedule included victories over Section V (Rochester area) Class AA champion Aquinas, Section V Class A semifinalist McQuaid and Walsh Jesuit of Ohio, the kind of out-of-town opponents that have usually kept some of the best Monsignor Martin champions in recent years from completing an unbeaten season.
Canisius, ranked first in The Buffalo News Large School Poll since Week Six, won championships in the Monsignor Martin regular season and postseason for the first time since 2009.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better finish, 11-0 and to top of it off like this, with a comeback victory,” said senior lineman Ryan Hunter.
As has been the case much of this special season, junior running back Qadree Ollison and Canisius’ offensive line settled things late. Ollison ran for 195 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries to finish the season with Canisius records in yards (1,876) and rushing TDs (25).
“It’s a great feeling,” Ollison said of the win. “I think the reason is that the whole team bought into it. We cared so much for each other. When all 55 guys come together as we did, great things happen. … Offensive coordinator Tom Coppola has a lot of faith in me, and when the coaching staff has faith in you, it’s a great feeling, just to know that they care and they know you can get it done.”
Bishop Timon-St. Jude (6-5), also in its second year under coach Charlie Comerford, ended its season by reaching the program’s first Monsignor Martin championship game. The Tigers, who were seeking their first outright title since 1994, fought back from a 14-0 hole before taking a 20-14 lead in the third quarter.
Canisius overcame four turnovers in the game, including a fumble on its first drive of the second half that would lead to a 77-yard drive by Timon as it took the lead on junior Adam DiMillo’s 3-yard score with 5:37 left.
From that point on, Canisius controlled the game behind Ollison and its defense. Ollison’s 13-yard touchdown – and junior Chris Alaimo’s kick – gave the Crusaders a 21-20 lead with 2:36 left in the third.
In the fourth quarter, Timon faced a fourth and 4 at its 12, but the same Canisius line that helped create lanes for Ollison stuffed a run that would set up another Ollison score. Canisius took over at the Timon 12 with 4:07 to play, and Ollison went in from 2 yards with 3:22 left for the 28-20 lead. Timon was still within one score, but Canisius closed the game quickly by limiting the Tigers to four plays and then ran out the clock.
“Our linemen up front, our running back, we wear people down,” said Robbins. “As much as we’ve gotten everybody’s best shot in the first half … at the the end of the third quarter, the fourth quarter, we start to do what we need to do.”