ROCHESTER — When the first Class AA rankings are released next week by the New York State Sportswriters Association, the No. 1 team will not be Canisius.
It will very likely be Aquinas.
The Section V (Rochester area) perennial power used a first-quarter field goal and a tremendous defensive effort to beat Canisius, 3-0, in a driving drizzle before an estimated 2,500 at its Wegmans Stadium on Friday night.
Canisius, which was tabbed the best team in the state by many national and regional polls heading into the season, struggled mightily to move the ball on offense and committed too many costly mistakes.
“We’re not making excuses for anything: We didn’t get it done tonight. Aquinas was the better team,” said Canisius coach Rich Robbins. “All of our goals, as far as being the champion in Monsignor Martin – it’s a long season so we really just need to get back to work.”
Canisius (1-1), the No. 1 large school in The News’ first poll, was considered the best team in New York by the National Prep Poll, Rivals.com, StudentSports.com, Athlon Sports and MaxPreps.
“It does really feel good because I thought last year I thought we got it jammed down our throat at the end of the game,” Aquinas coach Chris Battaglia said, referring to Canisius’ 35-7 home win over the Lil’ Irish, who went on to win the Section VI Class AA title before losing to Orchard Park in the Far West Regionals. “I think for us, we’ve been a little disrespected, and we felt that.”
Aquinas’ souvenir game program touts its five state championships over the last 15 seasons: 1998, 2001, 2002, 2007 and 2010, all in Class A. The Lil’ Irish (2-0) have won seven straight Section V championships, six in Class A before being elevated to Class AA last year.
“This is probably the first year in eight or nine years that we were the underdog,” said senior Luch Pietropaolo, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior running back who did most of the pounding into Canisius’ defensive line Friday night. “So we had a chip on our shoulder to take care of business.”
It is the first loss for Canisius – which went undefeated last year at 11-0 to finish atop the NYSSWA Class AA rankings and The News large school poll – since a defeat to St. Joe’s in the 2011 Monsignor Martin semifinals.
The only scoring in this meeting of two of the best programs in the state would occur in the first quarter, when Aquinas senior Alex Bianchi hit a 35-yard field goal with 46.5 seconds left in the period.
Canisius’ best chance to get on the scoreboard would come in the third quarter when senior quarterback Zach Liberatore, in the game in relief of junior starter Jake Loucks, helped move the Crusaders into scoring position.
However, Aquinas stopped Canisius on a fourth-and-2 and took over at its own 10. Standout running back Qadree Ollison, the 6-1, 220-pound back who verbally committed to the University of Pittsburgh on Monday, was stopped just short of the first-down marker as he was knocked out of bounds on a run to the wide right side. Ollison was unable to break free for his typically long runs all game.
“They’re a good defense, they’re a physical team and they crowded the box and took ‘Q’ away and stopped the run,” Robbins said.
Canisius would muff a punt return late in the fourth quarter to give the ball to Aquinas deep in the Canisius end. The Crusaders stopped Aquinas on downs, but their final possession ended when Liberatore fumbled and the Lil’ Irish recovered with 38.3 seconds to play.
Canisius hosts Ohio power Walsh Jesuit, another team the Crusaders beat last year, next Saturday.
“At the end of the day what I told our guys is that this is maybe a good thing,” Robbins said. “A nonleague game, in Week Two, it might be a good wake-up call for us.”