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  • Writer's picturetgardner1167

Crusaders Hold On, Win MMAA Division A Title

When it comes to postseason play in any sport, one must live by a certain mantra.

As a favorite, you are burdened by expectations to win a championship and to live up to the hype. As an underdog, once you get in the dance anything is possible.

That was the mindset of the Canisius Crusaders this year. Typically a powerhouse in the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association, the Crusaders endured a regular season record of 4-5 in 2019. Which wasn’t the standard that they had set for themselves.

But the team knew that the playoffs were a new ballgame. And that ballgame went in Canisius’ favor, leading to an upset win last weekend over St. Joe’s and a thriller of a win over St. Francis on Saturday to clinch the Division A title by a score of 27-21.

“This is a young team and we faced a lot of adversity this year,” coach Rich Robbins said. “We had some bad losses out of state and we lost to both of our league rivals in the regular season, but they stayed the course, kept working hard and trusted our program. Tonight, they’re champions, so I’m very proud of our kids and our coaches right now.”

After the Red Raiders struck first on a 34-yard passing touchdown from Jake Ritts to Thomas Bestpitch midway through the first quarter, the Crusaders took over the game. Joe Dixon – the game’s Most Valuable Player – took a handoff from nine yards out into the end zone to tie the contest up at seven apiece.

Midway through the second quarter, quarterback Tyler Baker scrambled away from pressure and ran 36 yards to the house to give Canisius a 13-7 lead. Two more rushing scores by Dixon – on five and two-yard runs, respectively – gave the Crusaders a 20-point lead and the team began to dream of a victory.

“We really wanted to be physical offensively, run the football and keep their offense off the field as much as we could,” Robbin said. “What we love about Joe is that he always keeps fighting. He’s gonna fight for 48 minutes, no matter what.”

“It was just about who wanted it more,” Dixon said. “We’ve got some dogs up front on our offensive line, and I love running the ball behind them. They don’t ever get the credit for what we do, and everything we’ve done offensively this season is because of them.”

St. Francis, however, had other ideas. A pair of trips to paydirt by running back Xzavier Janczylik in the third and fourth quarters cut the Red Raiders’ deficit down to six points, casting some doubt over the final outcome.

The Crusaders went three-and-out on their next drive, leading to a punt where the Red Raiders took over and drove the ball down the field in an attempt to take the lead. The drive fell short, however, when Riley Simpson stepped in front of an errant pass by Ritts and hauled in an interception – giving the ball back to Canisius and affording them the opportunity to run the clock down and seal the victory.

“We were in man coverage,” Simpson said. “I read the quarterback’s eyes and I had seen the routes on that play before. I just jumped it.”

Up next for Canisius is a date with Cardinal Hayes for the State Catholic final next Saturday at Robert J. Stransky Memorial Complex in West Seneca and Robbins said that his team will be facing their toughest foe all season.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve played the underdog role,” Robbins said. “It was a little different for us, so we treated this run as a revenge tour. Beating Joe’s after they beat us this year and beating St. Francis after they beat us here last year is great, but now we have Cardinal Hayes coming in. They do a tremendous job over there and they’re very talented. We’ll certainly have our hands full next weekend.”

TIGERS TAKE DOWN ST. MARY’S, WIN DIVISION B TITLE

Not to be outdone by their counterparts from Division A, the Bishop Timon-St. Jude Tigers defeated the St. Mary’s Lancers 36-32 on Saturday to become champions of Monsignor Martin’s B Division.

It was the perfect birthday present for coach Joe Licata, as he saw both teams erupt for a combined 54 points in the first half and hold on for a nail-biting four point win. It was also especially sweet given the dire circumstances that the program had gone through over the past two years.

“I cannot put into words how proud I am of this group for sticking together,” Licata said. “With everything that happened at the school two years ago and with the loss of Paul Humphrey this summer, the way this group has stuck together makes me extremely proud to be a part of this family.”

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