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Crusaders Romp, Take Home MMAA Title

After a decidedly defensive game through three quarters, the Canisius Crusaders exploded with 21 points in the fourth quarter to defeat St. Francis 31-20 at New Era Field and win the MMAA championship.

The title is the fourth in five years for the Crusaders and their eighth since 1975.

“I’m so proud of our coaches and kids tonight,” Crusaders coach Rich Robbins said. “It was a complete team win and a total team effort.

“When you play a schedule as tough as ours every year, it really says something about our ability to win four of the last five MMAA championships. It really speaks to our program and I’m blessed to have a terrific coaching staff that works so hard for these kids, who are good and smart kids. Any time you have a great group of people like that who love each other, you can accomplish special things, and we did that tonight.”

After a 43-yard pass from Jayce Johnson to Paul Woods to give the Crusaders favorable field position, senior running back Mason Hoose gave the Crusaders an early 7-0 lead with a three-yard run. Shortly thereafter, an interception by Red Raiders defensive lineman Tyler Grisolia was taken 43 yards to the end zone to put St. Francis on the board.

“I came off the ball and just followed the running back, because Coach Smith said they were going to go to him a lot,” Grisolia said. “I caught the ball and just ran my (butt) off.”

On the Red Raiders’ first possession of the second quarter, the team converted a key first down within their opponent’s territory on fourth down. However, the Red Raiders attempted to follow up that key play with some ill-advised trickery. After handing off to sophomore Dawson Tyger on a jet sweep, Tyger tried to throw a pass to the end zone, but was intercepted by RaeQwon Greer.

Blake Haubeil, a recent commit to play football at Ohio State, then booted a 47-yard field goal to give the Crusaders a 10-6 lead at the half.

After an exchange of big defensive plays in the third quarter – Red Raiders linebacker Bryan Dempsey recording his second sack of the game and Crusaders linebacker Cole Burniston forcing a fumble – neither squad was able to capitalize on the momentum caused by those plays. Then it all changed in the fourth quarter.

“We knew that St. Francis was coming to fight tonight,” Robbins said. “They’ve got a lot of talent and they’re very well coached. Coach Smith does a great job, gets his guys to improve throughout the season and whenever you play against St. Francis in a championship setting, they’re going to be ready to go.

“We had our hands full with them through the first three quarters. Every time adversity came, we just kept responding and we responded in a big way in the fourth quarter by establishing the running game.”

Greer agreed.

“We just wanted to go into that fourth quarter and be more physical than them,” Greer said. “We wanted to break their will and make them not want to tackle us anymore. I think we definitely accomplished that goal.”

Greer kick-started the offensive fireworks with a three-yard touchdown run with 9:42 left to play. Then Red Raiders running back Dylan McDuffie answered back with a touchdown run of his own from 17 yards out, with a two-point conversion on a shovel pass from Gerald Hickson to Marques Hartley making the score 17-14.

Less than 30 seconds later, Kenyatta Huston came through for the Crusaders in a big way, taking a handoff 39 yards to paydirt and increasing Canisius’ lead to 24-14. That score, while giving Canisius a ten-point lead, effectively put the game away as the Red Raiders next drive was stopped on a fourth-down sack by Jacob Lutz with a yard to go.

Greer added an insurance touchdown run, his second of the game, on a 70-yard run to tack on the Crusaders’ final seven points of the night. McDuffie recorded his second touchdown of the night on a nine-yard reception later on.

“We turned the ball over a few too many times tonight, and it just seemed like the ball wasn’t bouncing our way,” Red Raiders coach Jerry Smith said. “Canisius played a lot better than we did, and they were on their ‘A’ game. I’m proud of our guys for competing all the way until the end.”

While the Crusaders will have a shot at a state championship next week, Robbins wanted to savor this title first. A loss in last year’s championship game against the same opponent left Canisius stewing, and helped them refocus for a run this year.

“When we lost to St. Francis last year in the championship game, that was the longest bus ride home I’ve ever had in my career,” Robbins said. “When we got back, I met with all of the underclassmen and we made a commitment to each other, that we were going to work harder and do everything it takes to get back on top.

“Eleven months later, and after a lot of blood, sweat, tears and hard work, we’re champions again. It feels great.”

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