Canisius became quite dependent on Cole Burniston last season, so much so that when injuries limited the Connolly Cup finalist’s effectiveness down the stretch when the humming Crusaders’ offense came to a screeching halt.
In the event the 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior gets banged up again and is unavailable, it shouldn’t be the end of the world for Canisius’ offense.
That’s because this edition of the Crusaders seems to have more than enough talented running backs to go around. Five different ball carriers reached the end zone Saturday as Canisius ran over Lockport, 60-6, in a nonleague game at Koessler Field at the Stransky Complex.
An estimated crowd of 1,500 watched Burniston score on runs of 10 and 9 yards as he rushed for 70 yards on seven carries. Senior fullback Mason Hoose carried three times for 23 yards and a 5-yard score, while Lockport transfer Kenyatta Huston and Dan Harig also ran for touchdowns.
Another running back who didn’t reach the end zone, senior RaeQwon Greer, ran four times for 34 yards, while junior quarterback Jayce Johnson (6 of 12 passing for 125 yards and two TDs) had two runs for 32 yards in his varsity debut. The Crusaders rushed for 228 of their 353 yards behind a line featuring seniors Alex Adimey, Sean Kennelly, Collin Drilling and juniors Brad Currell and Will McGennis.
“I think, as a first game of the season, going out there and putting up 60 on the board, it’s a nice message to the other teams in Buffalo, Western New York and the state,” said Burniston, who rushed for 923 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. “We’re here to play and we’re not leaving without a ring.”
“We have a great O-line. … I think our whole mindset this season is we can score whenever from wherever on the field. We have a bunch of talent all over the field.”
Especially in the backfield, as Huston burned his old team on a 40-yard touchdown run on his only carry of the day in the third quarter. Harig ran three times for 29 yards and his 4-yard TD during running time late in the fourth quarter provided the game’s final points.
Burniston, Hoose, Greer and Johnson each played a role in helping Canisius take an early 14-0 lead en route to a 32-0 halftime advantage. Burniston scored the first TD of the season for the Crusaders with 8 minutes, 49 seconds left in the first quarter, rumbling in from the 10. On that drive, the key gains came in the form of a 20-yard run by Johnson and Paul Woods’ 9-yard third-down catch in traffic. Greer had a 6-yard run during that march.
“Last year we very were thin at certain spots,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. “We have three or four really good running backs. It’s nice to have some depth because it is a long season and if someone does go down, next man up should be able to do the job.”
After Hoose’s touchdown made it 14-0 with 4:08 left in the first quarter, Lockport marched down field and seemed on the verge of making it a one-touchdown game. However, the Crusaders’ defense denied the Lions, stopping a fourth-and-goal from the 6 a yard shy of breaking the plane of the goal line.
Nine plays later, Johnson passed for his first touchdown – finding Woods for a 70-yard scoring play on a first and 39.
Canisius quickly turned a 32-0 halftime lead into 46-0 advantage as back-to-back turnovers by Lions deep in their territory resulted in Burniston’s second touchdown and a 12-yard Johnson TD pass to Keenan Ollison.
“Not the outcome we wanted,” said first-year Lockport coach Matt Vermette. “We wanted to keep it as close as we could. When we turned the ball over there in the second half, the doors kind of got blown off a little bit. And we blew the coverage on the long touchdown (in the second quarter).”
Xavier Barber had 92 rushing yards and scored on a 2-yard run to lead the Lions.
Colby Moultrie led the Canisius defense, returning an interception 24 yards for a touchdown, recovering a fumble, blocking a punt and making four tackles. Hoose made a team-high 11 tackles, while Ray Miranda and Tyler Wieczorek each recovered a fumble for the Crusaders.
While the Lions got mauled, Vermette said he’d have no problem playing Canisius or any other team in the Monsignor Martin Association even though there could be some tension between public and private schools in the area as fallout of the Jeremiah Sanders transfer last week from South Park to Bishop Timon-St. Jude.
“I love playing anyone that’ll make us better,” Vermette said. “We just want our kids to keep improving.”
Lockport hopes to apply its lessons when it hosts Niagara Falls in its Class AA North opener next Saturday, while the Crusaders look to continue grounding and pounding their opponents when they entertain Cardinal O’Hara at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“Those guys did a fantastic job today,” Burniston said. “O-line is good. That’s going to be one of the strengths of our team. We’re really excited about that.