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State Catholic football final preview capsule: Canisius vs. Cardinal Hayes

Who: Canisius Crusaders (9-2) vs. Cardinal Hayes Cardinals (8-4)

What: New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association championship.

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: Fordham University

Tickets: $10

Online broadcast: news12varsity.com

Rankings: Canisius is ranked No. 2 in the News Large Schools poll and 11th in the New York Sportswriters Class AA poll. Cardinal Hayes is ranked 18th in the state and 16th in the News 12 Varsity Tri-State (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) poll.

Canisius in the final: The Crusaders are 1-0, defeating Archbishop Stepinac, 23-10, in the inaugural title game in 2014.

Cardinal Hayes in final: The Cardinals are making their first championship-game appearance.

Coaches: Canisius, Rich Robbins, sixth season (53-14). Cardinal Hayes, CJ O’Neil, 13th season (76-66).

Canisius key players and stats: Sr. DE/FB Mason Hoose, 6-1/230 (134 tackles, 36 TFL, 7 sacks; 7 rush TDs), Sr. LB/RB Cole Burniston, 6-3/225 (71 tackles, 21 TFL, 8 sacks; 60-466, 5 TDs), Jr. QB Jayce Johnson, 6-5/200 (63-120, 894, 8 TDs; 76 carries, 599 yards, 5 TDs); Sr. RB/DB RaeQwon Greer, 5-11/185 (102-662, 11 TDs; 50 tackles, 4 INTs); Jr. WR/DB Paul Woods, 6-1/165 (26-505, 5 TDs; 2 INTs); Sr. LB Stephen Dillon, 6-0/225 (82 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks), Sr. Jeremy Cych, 6-3/200 (72 tackles, 8 TFL),  Sr. K/P Blake Haubeil, 6-4/225 (24 punts, 39.2 avg.; 6-9 FGs, 50-50 PATS; 68 kickoffs, 48 touchbacks).

Cardinal Hayes key players and stats: Sr. QB Christian Anderson, 6-1/180 (176-311, 3,267, 34 TDs, 6 INTs; 120 rushes, 586 yards, 9 TDs), Jr. WR Lucas Nunez, 5-9/170 (52-1,433, 20 TDs), Sr. WR Shameen Jones, 6-3/175 (3-52, 1 TD), Jr. RB Carlos Fernandez, 5-4/155 (137-603, 8 TDs; ), RB Tahshawn Brinson, 5-10/190 (82-448, 5 TDs), Jr. WR Emmanuel Oliver, 5-7/160 (53-625, 2 TDs), Jr. WR Elijah Jones, 6-3/168 (27-627, 6 TDs).

How they got here: The Crusaders ended St. Francis’ reign as Monsignor Martin champions with a 31-20 triumph Nov. 17 to capture their fourth league playoff title in five seasons. Canisius pulled away from last year’s state runner-up with a 21-14 fourth quarter as junior Kenyatta Huston scored on a 39-yard run just after the Red Raiders had pulled within 17-14. A few minutes later, senior running back RaeQwon Greer, who finished with 143 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, sealed the triumph with a 70-yard TD run. Greer also made an interception that led to a field goal late in the first half.

Cardinal Hayes went from a potential disappointing season to being on the cusp of one of its best, as the Cardinals have won eight of their last nine games – including four in a row. Hayes ended Archbishop Stepinac’s state championship reign on Nov. 19, earning a 41-39 victory to capture the New York City Catholic High School League Class AAA title. The Cardinals followed that up by earning a Thanksgiving Day rivalry game win over Mount St. Michael’s, 43-24.

In the triumph over Stepinac – which avenged an early-season defeat to the White Plains school, Division I prospect Christian Anderson threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns. Lucas Nunez caught four passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Shameen Jones, a Rutgers commit, caught what proved to be the game-winning TD with 1:21 left in his first game back from what was believed to be a season-ending knee injury.

Pre-snap read: There will be lots of talented players on both teams in this one, including legitimate Division I prospects, which should make for an entertaining final football game of the season in the state of New York.

Canisius’ defense has a reputation for being stingy the past five seasons despite graduation turnover. This year is no different as it yields just under 13 points per game. The most points it has given up – 28 in a four-point loss at current unbeaten and Pennsylvania state semifinalist Cathedral Prep.

The Crusaders will have to be at their best to slow down/stop a Cardinals offense that’s averaging 34.4 points per game. Anderson has thrown for at least 300 yards five times in his last six games en route to compiling the third-most passing yards in a single season in state history. He’s also has the ability to burn teams with his running ability.

Canisius must figure out a way to knock Anderson off his game – perhaps making him uncomfortable with its pass rush. Another way to potentially stop him could be for the Crusaders’ defensive backs to get good jams on receivers at the line to disrupt timing on plays.

Canisius offense staying on the field may be the best way to keep Anderson on the sideline. The Crusaders average 254 yards rushing per game, so look for them to rely on the ground and pound to control time of possession. They do have running backs who can take it to the house – including RaeQwon Greer, Kenyatta Huston and Cole Burniston, but also have the ability to go over the top to Boston College commit Paul Woods or Zeke Margaritis should Hayes over commit to stopping the run.

Special teams could be the X-factor. The last time the Crusaders won the state title, that phase of the game tilted things in their favor as their Division I commit kicker Michael Tarbutt drilled three field goals, including a 60-yarder, and News Player of the Year TJ Wheatley blocked a punt that Canisius also turned into points.

Canisius has one of the best kickers in the nation in Ohio State-commit Blake Haubeil. Forty-eight of his 68 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. He also holds the school record for longest field goal (61 yards, set last season).

What’s next: The start of the offseason.

Canisius set to face high-powered offense in state Catholic final

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