The 82nd matchup of Canisius and St. Joe’s bore many similarities to the 81st. Just like last year at St. Joe’s, thousands – an estimated throng in excess of 6,500 – packed the bleachers and surrounded Canisius’ Koessler Field to watch the game despite a pesty, persistent rain. And just like last year, standout running back Qadree Ollison led the way for the victorious Crusaders, carry after carry.
This year’s result, however, was as straightforward as one of Ollison’s runs up the middle, thanks to another dominant display by the Canisius defense.
Canisius recorded its fifth shutout of the season to combine with Ollison’s two-touchdown day and give the Crusaders a 21-0 victory over their rival and, with it, a second straight Monsignor Martin Association regular season championship.
“It’s a big thing for these kids, because as it’s been said all week, this defines their career as a Canisius football player, especially for the seniors,” said third-year Canisius coach Rich Robbins. “So to do it before all of our alumni, and to do it in the way they did, it’s a memory they’ll have for the rest of their life.”
Canisius (7-2) finished 5-0 in the Monsignor Martin Association and has a bye into the semifinals on Thursday, Nov. 14 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. St. Joe’s (6-3, 4-1) also has a bye to the semifinals.
“It kind of reminds me of last year, with the rain, and competing for the No. 1 seed in our league,” said Ollison, who last year ran for a school-record 344 yards and all four of his team’s touchdowns on 39 carries in a title-clinching 28-21 win that went down to the final minutes. “The offensive line played great. Especially when it started raining and pouring, we knew it was going to be a grind-it-out type of day. Coach Robbins pretty much put it on the offensive line and myself, and we went out and got it done.”
Ollison led the way again this year but the rushing attack was certainly not as singular. Ollison ran 26 times for 119 yards as Canisius outgained St. Joe’s, 236-33, behind the starting offensive line of seniors Lucas Andler, Eric Buhr, Josh Veronica, David Koeppel and Rolando Cercone. Junior Brad Zaffram, part of the overwhelming defensive display at linebacker, carried 15 times for 77 yards.
That was more than enough offense for a team that did not allow a point in its four home games at the school’s Stransky Complex in West Seneca.
“It’s been a mentality for our defense,” said Robbins. “Our defensive staff does a great job: We fight for every inch, and we take it personally on defense. We don’t want to get scored on, we don’t want to give up first downs. I was obviously really proud of those guys and I was really proud of the offensive line. They came out and really dominated the line of scrimmage and allowed us to run the ball and run the clock. Overall I’m really happy with my guys.”
Canisius’ control of the line on both sides of the ball led to a 16-4 advantage in first downs, with two of St. Joe’s first downs coming on a final drive with the outcome decided, and a time of possession advantage of 33:30 to 14:30. The defense limited St. Joe’s senior standout Nigel Davis to 24 yards on 12 carries and sophomore quarterback Mike McCarthy to 4-of-12 passing for 37 yards.
“Our defense has been playing tremendously all year,” said Ollison. “It’s kind of mind-boggling how well they play and how they can stop these really good teams.”
The rivalry game between two of the top four large schools in The News large school poll (Canisius is second, St. Joe’s fourth) played out how one would think early on with a scoreless first quarter. Ollison scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter for a 7-0 halftime lead for Canisius. A game in which field position was paramount had a big momentum swing on the second-half kickoff, as Canisius junior Jerome Brundidge took a short kick and returned it to the St. Joe’s 18. Soon after, Ollison added a 13-yard touchdown for a 14-0 lead.
Canisius stifled St. Joe’s throughout the game and its standout moment came after the Crusaders failed to convert a fourth-and-1 on its own 33. Canisius held with a three-and-out and took over at its 39. That led to a long drive which chewed up yards and time and ended with senior quarterback Zach Liberatore, who shared the position with junior Jakob Loucks for most of the game, picking up a bad snap on second-and-goal and running it in from 1 yard out for a 21-0 lead with 6:47 left.
“Our defensive mentality is to not give up any points,” said TJ Wheatley, the 6-foot-6, 245-pound junior defensive end who has a scholarship offer from Alabama among many other Division I programs. “I can make a play, Augie Touris can make a play, Koeppel, Rolando, anyone.”
Senior Deanthony Simpson had four tackles and an interception while Brundidge had two tackles and a sack.
St. Joe’s junior Cordell Owens had seven tackles, including four for loss, on Canisius’ only four negative plays of the game. Anthony Castellani, a senior linebacker, had 11 tackles.
Both teams await winners of this week’s quarterfinals. St. Joe’s will play the winner of Cardinal O’Hara at St. Francis, while Canisius faces the winner of Bishop Timon-St. Jude at St. Mary’s.
“For seniors on this team, this is our last game on this field,” an emotional Ollison said after a line of seniors did a “final walk,” hand-in-hand across the field, from one end zone to the other. “It’s a very big win for us to beat Joe’s in your last game on your home field – there’s no better feeling.”