Saturday was supposed to be the day Canisius returned to mortal status in social media circles because there was no way the Crusaders were expected to hang with DePaul Catholic of New Jersey.
The Spartans not only have nine Division I commits in their starting lineup but also play in one of the toughest football leagues in the nation. They play a schedule that features nationally ranked teams and will play a nationally televised game on Oct. 9 on ESPNU.
Folks better start remembering the names of these Canisius players.
The current batch of Crusaders (4-0), with just one Division I commit on the roster, took a step toward earning immortal status just like the TJ Wheatley-led crew of a year ago by knocking off DePaul, 17-14, before an estimated 3,000 at the Stransky Complex.
A Canisius team playing without its top running back, Cole Burniston (undisclosed injury), for the second straight week found a way to extend its winning streak to 20 games even though it produced 3 yards of offense on the ground. The Crusaders got away with that by placing the offense in the capable hands of senior quarterback Tyler Stranahan.
All he did was complete 14-of-27 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown. He also drew penalties that produced four first downs for Canisius, three during the Crusaders’ penultimate drive as the state’s top-ranked Class AA and News No. 1 Large School milked the clock en route to the signature win.
“It’s a big statement for us and our whole team,” Stranahan said. “People around here still don’t believe in us but we just showed what kind of team we are.”
“That’s the best game by a quarterback I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said of Stranahan’s play. “The way he was getting hit out there by those kids. He just showed so much toughness, coming back making plays with his legs, making plays with his arm.”
Meanwhile, the Crusaders’ defense, with eight new starters, did not break as it limited an offense led by Ohio State-commit Kareem Walker, the nation’s top recruit at running back, to 226 yards. Walker managed just 75 yards on 12 carries as the Spartans (1-3) struggled to get anything going until late in the third quarter when they trailed, 17-0.
Hasise Dubois caught two touchdown passes for the Spartans, a 34-yarder and an 11-yarder, one set up by a fumble recovery at Canisius’ 27 early in the fourth quarter. That’s as close as DePaul got without putting a scare in the blue and gold. Chase Hebron intercepted a deep pass from Stranahan at the Spartans’ 3 with 3:30 left to give DePaul a chance to drive for either game-tying or go-ahead points.
After gaining 36 yards on four plays to reach the Canisius 45, a holding call negated a potential big gain run for Walker. Two plays later, Mason Hoose and Colby Moultrie sacked Shelton Applewhite for a 9-yard loss, setting up fourth-and-17 from DePaul’s 48. Alaan Montgomery, who made a team-high 15 tackles, broke up a fourth-down pass with 1:30 to all but seal the win.
“They needed this win to show that … we’re strong and that we’re a powerful program,” said senior receiver/linebacker Justin Jones, one of few returning starters for Canisius. “This win lets” the new core “know inside in our hearts and as a team that we can do anything we put our minds to. It was a very important win for us.”
While each team committed a bunch of penalties (DePaul 14, Canisius 11), the Spartans’ came at the worst possible time. Walker took the game’s first handoff 80 yards only to have the TD called back by a holding call. Each team had touchdowns called back due to penalties.
The flags Stranahan drew either by cadence or by throwing it up in a receiver’s direction only to draw a defensive penalty, however, were all key.
Stranahan completed his first seven pass attempts in staking the Crusaders to an early 14-0 lead. A 49-yard bomb to Jones on Canisius’ first offensive play provided loads of confidence.
“That just brought everybody’s momentum up and that’s what we needed for the victory,” Jones said.
RaeQwon Greer’s 3-yard TD run made it a two-score game late in the first quarter. Blake Haubeil, Canisius’ lone D-I commit, booted a 37-yard field goal with 5:41 left in the third quarter that made it 17-0.
That capped an opening drive in the second half in which the Crusaders burned more than six minutes of clock.
Impressive – just like Saturday’s victory.
“My coaching staff on both sides of the ball,” offensive coordinator Alejandro Overton and defensive coordinator Brian Taylor, “did a tremendous job putting our kids in position to be successful and obviously I have to give a ton of credit to my kids,” Robbins said. “We told them all week if we came out and executed that we could beat this team. … I couldn’t be more proud of a group kids than I am right now.”
Canisius plays at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Francis.