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Canisius overwhelms St. Francis

There’s still a lot of season left for a Canisius team that feels like it has some unfinished business.

But 55-13 will do, for now.

The Crusaders gained a measure of payback against reigning Monsignor Martin Association postseason champion St. Francis on Saturday afternoon by turning what many expected to be an intriguing clash between Western New York football heavyweights into a suspense-less dud. No. 1 Canisius dominated the fifth-ranked Red Raiders in all phases of the game before an estimated 3,000 at the Stransky Complex.

With the Crusaders’ student section mixing in chants of “this is easy” and “this is boring” during the final 12 minutes, those who remained to the end watched as third- and fourth-string running backs scored on runs of 77, 52 and 73 yards as they tried to milk the clock. Kenyatta Huston scored the first two as he carried just five times but rushed for a team-high 151 yards. Dan Harig completed the scoring as Canisius lived up to its billing as the state’s top-ranked Class AA team.

“Last year we beat them (during the regular season) and then lost to them at The Ralph,” said Crusaders senior Cole Burniston, who made 10 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, recorded an interception and caught a 44-yard touchdown. “This (feeling) just doesn’t go away with this win. We’re still hungry. … We still have big games coming up. We’re going to see Frannies again in the playoffs. We’re going to have to come just as hard if not more.”

“As I’ve said before, the championship game last year was some humble pie for us,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. “I think that really refocused everyone in the whole program. We’ve worked very hard to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.”

The defense made sure it didn’t get steamrolled like it did during last year’s final, when the Red Raiders ended the Crusaders’ three-year championship reign with a 42-7 victory. The Crusaders’ pass rush made life miserable for St. Francis’ offense and quarterback Jerry Hickson right from the start.

Burniston and fellow senior linebacker Mason Hoose (15 tackles, half sack) led a group that sacked Hickson five times for losses totaling 40 yards in the first half. One takedown occurred on a punt attempt and gave Canisius a short field for the last of its four first-half touchdowns – a 5-yard run by Hoose. The Crusaders led, 27-6, at halftime.

The only good news for St. Francis: Hickson inched closer to the Western New York career passing yards mark (6,671) as he needs 388 yards to take over the No. 1 spot.

Canisius’ pressure prevented Hickson from going vertical as he finished 15 for 28 for 160 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

“You have to give him a lot of different looks and some different pressures,” said Robbins, who gave credit to assistants for doing a fine job preparing the unit. “I thought the boys executed very well.”

Senior RaeQwon Greer helped Canisius set the tone on the game’s first drive. After the Crusaders forced a three-and-out, Greer blocked Hickson’s punt attempt and recovered at Frannies’ 6. Three plays later, Greer scooted around left end for a 3-yard touchdown that gave Canisius the lead for good.

The Crusaders’ defense followed that opening statement with an interception by Paul Woods and then forced a punt and three turnovers on downs. Though Canisius didn’t turn the interception into points, it did tack on three more scores before St. Francis got on the board late in the half as Jayce Johnson passed for two of those touchdowns. He hooked up on a 44-yarder with Burniston and a 35-yard play to Zeke Margaritis (three catches, 45 yards).

“They ran the same plays they’ve been running all year. They just out-executed us in all facets of the game,” Red Raiders coach Jerry Smith said.

Johnson completed 5 of 8 passes for three touchdowns and 99 yards. RJ Brandon also made an interception for Canisius, which plays the first of five straight road games on Friday at Alden. St. Francis hosts defending state Class AA champion Aquinas on Saturday.

There’s still a lot of season left but back-to-back wins over Aquinas and the Red Raiders hasn’t completely satisfied the Crusaders.

“We have to stay hungry,” Robbins said.

email: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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