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The St. Francis Red Raiders are champions of Monsignor Martin’s A Division for the first time since 2018 after a 21-10 victory over the Canisius Crusaders, but the win didn’t come via a blowout nor did it happen after a nail-biting classic.

Instead, the strong winds that whipped across the field and a mixture of snowfall from earlier in the day and some rain during the game left the turf at Polian Family Field a bit wet – resulting in lots of turnovers and sloppy play. But Red Raiders coach Jerry Smith, who was celebrating a birthday that same night, will take the results either way.

“It doesn’t get any better than that, other than having your kids born,” Smith said. “We had a couple of mistakes and so did they, but at halftime we talked about the only thing that mattered was how much we love each other and how can we show that. The only way you’re going to do that is by playing hard and don’t be worried about mistakes.”

After an interception by Aaron Roseboro off Tyler Baker saw Roseboro return the ball inside the 10-yard line, Jimmy Scott helped St. Francis strike first on a one-yard touchdown run. Tyler Baker then answered back on a quarterback keeper from a short distance out to tie the game a little while later.

Following a drive by the Red Raiders that came up empty, Alec Reynolds connected on a field goal to increase the Crusaders’ lead by three. Then the wackiness began.

A blocked punt by Canisius near midfield led to a missed field goal by Reynolds from about 45 yards away. Then on St. Francis’ next drive, a fake punt on fourth down gave the team a big first down but offensive miscues denied the Red Raiders from doing any damage afterwards.

As soon as Canisius got the ball back, a bad snap on the quarterback-center exchange forced Baker to get rid of the ball quickly, and Logan Reaska – the Red Raiders’ player of the game – intercepted it at midfield and took it to the house for a 14-10 halftime lead.

“They had run that play out of a trips formation where the receiver runs a quick out,” Reaska said. “They’d run that all game and I saw it on film this week. When I saw that set, I knew they were going to do that. When he did his little motion, I bit on it and hoped I didn’t get caught (from behind).”

Smith knew that his team needed a boost after each squad had started to stumble, and Logan’s pick-six was a sign of his team overcoming the odds that were being stacked against them.

“Football’s like life, man,” Smith said. “The ones who persevere through obstacles and keep going the most are the ones that end up winning. Logan did an outstanding job today.”

When Canisius kicked off to start the second half, St. Francis promptly fumbled the ball right back to the Crusaders, giving them excellent field position. But once again another miscue occurred – Reynolds missed another field goal that could have pulled his team closer.

The 14-10 score remained as it was heading into the fourth quarter when a botched snap by Canisius’ long snapper was recovered by the Red Raiders deep inside Crusader territory – and this time, they took advantage. Scott plunged into the end zone on his second one-yard rushing score of the night and that touchdown gave his team a commanding 11-point lead.

Canisius did have a pair of opportunities to cash in and make the contest a one-score game, but it wasn’t meant to be as Baker tossed two interceptions into the end zone to seal the win for St. Francis. “I didn’t exhale until the end. You never do that,” Smith said. “They’re a tough program and a tough team. They played hard. Those kids wanted it too. That was a difficult game, to overcome all of the craziness.”

In total the Red Raider defense forced four interceptions (two by Reaska and two by Roseboro), effectively leading the way for St. Francis to earn the victory.

“Our defense just stepped up today,” Smith said. “They had great field position several times, but we got interceptions and we stopped them a couple times. Hats off to these kids for believing in themselves.”

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