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Crusaders Cruise to MMAA Title Game Berth

The Canisius Crusaders went into their MMAA semifinal matchup against Bishop Timon-St. Jude Tigers on Saturday with one thing on their minds – revenge.

The Crusaders (8-2, 4-1 MMAA) were able to accomplish that and a whole lot more, defeating the Tigers (5-6, 3-3) by a 42-14 margin at Robert J. Stransky Sports Complex. By doing so, it sealed a berth in the Msgr. Martin Athletic Association title game against St. Francis next Thursday and also avenged a loss earlier in the regular season to the Tigers.

“Obviously, the kids and coaches were really excited to get a second chance,” Crusaders coach Rich Robbins said. “We really felt on that Friday night at Tifft, the (muddy) surface was a problem for us. So it was nice to get home today – our first game here since September – and win a playoff game. You don’t often get a chance to right a wrong, or make up for something that we let slip away.”

From the Tigers’ opening drive, it was obvious that they couldn’t figure out the Crusaders’ defense. An aggressive, blitzing unit, it befuddled the Tiger’s pass protection and run blocking schemes all day long with constant pre-snap movement and consistently giving the Tigers fits.

“We just felt, coming into today, that pre-snap movement of our linebackers and defensive backs would give us an advantage as far as screwing up their protections and not just confusing their offensive line, but their quarterback too,” Robbins said. “Our coaches did a great job this week coming up with that defensive gameplan for them.”

Raeqwon Greer scored his first of three touchdowns on the day with a seven-yard run early in the first quarter and from there, it was all downhill for the Tigers. Later in the first half, a sack and forced fumble by Cole Burniston and recovery by Jacob Lutz helped give the Crusaders good field position and led to Greer capitalizing on a four-yard scamper.

On the next Tigers’ offensive drive, Greer intercepted Tigers quarterback Matt Meyers and was then rewarded for his defensive efforts by notching his third rushing touchdown of the game from 33 yards out. Greer’s big game provided a boost for the Crusaders and showed how much of an impact the senior running back could make.

“I think he’s the most underrated football player in Western New York,” Robbins said. “He doesn’t get mentioned for the Connolly Cup, or for other awards, but all year long on both sides of the ball, he’s been fantastic for us.”

Greer chalked it up to his teammates, saying that his personal success couldn’t have been possible without their efforts.

“The execution, the physicality – that was our main focus, to play as well as possible,” Greer said. “It felt really good to show everybody that we were a good football team.”

A 33-yard touchdown pass from Jayce Johnson to Zeke Margaritis increased the Crusaders’ lead to 28-0 and the Tigers’ next drive was killed by another sack from Burniston, his second of three on the day. In the second half, Johnson hit paydirt on a 45-yard run and Paul Woods hauled in a 54-yard pass to seal the deal for the Crusaders.

Meyers scored both of the Tigers’ touchdowns on quarterback keepers from two and 33 yards, respectively.

“They were the better team today. They really took it to us,” Tigers coach Charlie Comerford said. “We had a good year, and I don’t know if we hit a wall today, but we were outplayed.”

The Crusaders will take on the Red Raiders next week at New Era Field for the MMAA championship game, and will try to avenge another previous loss to them. Last year St. Francis defeated Canisius 42-7 to end the Crusader’s three-year title run, and while winning 55-13 in the regular season provided a sliver of satisfaction, Canisius knows that the stakes couldn’t be higher heading into next week.

“We have a long history with St. Francis, having played them many times in playoff games and championships,” Robbins said. “We had a good game against them in September, but that feels like last season at this point.

“They are hitting their stride now. We’ll certainly have our hands full with them on Thursday night.”

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