The Canisius Crusaders have been searching for their identity on offense for four weeks. While they’re still in the process of finding exactly what works best, they have found what works for now.
Behind the guidance of senior quarterback Zach Liberatore and senior running back (and sometimes QB) Qadree Ollison, the Crusaders cruised to a 35-9 win at St. Francis Friday night in the Monsignor Martin Association opener for both teams.
Ollison rushed for 117 yards on 27 carries while Liberatore threw for one touchdown and made several big plays as Canisius racked up 338 yards of total offense.
The Crusaders have been spotty at quarterback in the early season and are starting to feel their way with the double threat of Liberatore and Ollison.
“I think Zach Liberatore coming in gave us a spark, threw some nice balls for us and allowed Qadree to go back and play some running back,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. “It’s nice to have both of them in the huddle and have multiple threats. Right now it’s kind of tough to get a beat on us. But we’re going to keep working hard and look for our identity.”
“To start fast and have other players beside myself is good for us,” Ollison said. “It makes the other team worry about other players on my team. The offensive line is the key for us. It’s the key to any team. So having a good offensive line helped us the most.”
Canisius got off to that fast start, thanks to a defensive unit that has been solid all season.
Solomon Renfro intercepted a pass by Elliot Buccieri, giving the Crusaders their first possession on the St. Francis 22-yard line. Six plays later, Brad Zaffram ran the ball in from the 1 to give the Crusaders a 7-0 lead with 8:26 left in the first quarter.
St. Francis countered with a big play on their next possession when quarterback Gerald Hickson hooked up with Kordell Holness-Lightbody for a 42-yard gain. But the Red Raiders followed that with a false start, a run for a loss and two incomplete passes, forcing them to punt.
The defense continues to be key for the Crusaders, as they gave up their first touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter.
Canisius held St. Francis to just 161 yards on 31 plays, with Brendon Misterman rushing for 113 yards, and that touchdown, on 14 carriers.
“Obviously our defense was key,” Robbins said. “We’re very tough on defense. We tried to get a couple of guys in at the end. It’s important to get guys in the game and we made some mistakes there and they got us. Misterman’s a heck of a player. We gave one up, but we got the win. That’s what’s important.”
In the second quarter, St. Francis had a fantastic punt which pinned the Crusaders down on their own 8-yard line. Canisius used a pair of big plays to move the ball up field – a 29-yard run by Ollison and a 21-yard pass play from Liberatore to Tyrone Wheatley, Jr.
On first-and-10 from the St. Francis 29, the Red Raiders were called for pass interference, moving the Crusaders inside the red zone.
Canisius had the ball first-and-goal from the 4, and then needed three tries from the 1 before Ollison punched it in. That capped the 92-yard drive and gave the Crusaders a 14-0 lead with 3:06 left in the half.
In its first possession of the second half, St. Francis used the power running of Misterman, who had several big pickups – including a run of 17 yards.
The drive reached the Canisius 21, where Charbel Dabire kicked a 38-yard field goal to put the Red Raiders on the board with 5:54 left in the third quarter.
Canisius responded with another big play to get into the red zone when Liberatore hit Josh Huffman for a 65-yard pass play. It was Zaffram who ran the ball in from the 2 to give the Crusaders some breathing room, 21-3.
Another interception by the Crusaders defense gave them a short field. They completed the 30-yard drive in four plays with Ollison scoring the touchdown on a 10-yard run.
But on the next possession by St. Francis, Misterman finally broke free up the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown run.
The Crusaders put the game away with 1:56 left when on fourth-and-8 Ryan Richards pulled in a pass from LIberatore in the end zone. With the extra point, Canisius took a 35-9 lead.