NEW YORK – Zeke Margaritis’ final catch of his scholastic career proved to be the perfect capper for the senior wide receiver and the Canisius Crusaders on a beautiful day for football at picturesque Fordham University.
The catch not only delivered an epic finish to the final scholastic game of the season in the state, but it also enhanced Canisius’ reputation as being one of the top teams in all of New York.
The Crusaders are state champions, again.
They secured their second New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association title in three seasons by rallying in the final 96 seconds for a wild 50-44 triumph over Cardinal Hayes on Sunday afternoon at Jack Coffey Field.
Margaritis’ 17-yard touchdown catch with 12 seconds left proved to be the difference, as the senior’s touchdown grab followed by his reception of the ensuing two-point conversion turned a potential tough-to-stomach defeat into an indescribable feeling for Canisius in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 – including at least 1,000 with ties to the Crusaders.
“I’ve never felt anything like this,” said Margaritis, who also caught a 34-yard touchdown. “It’s amazing the last play of my high school career, last play I’m put up to the challenge to go up and win it. I love it.”
The last play was designed for either Margaritis or junior receiver Paul Woods. Both stand over 6-feet tall with the 6-3 Margaritis getting the nod based off pre-snap read since he was lined up against the shorter of the two corners on Hayes’ defense. Margaritis easily won the battle for the jump-ball in the end zone to stun the Cardinals (8-5), who had won eight of their last nine to earn the title shot in their own backyard.
“I was made as a decoy and we did a signal, he threw the pass up to Zeke,” said Woods, who caught three TD passes during a nine-catch, 179-yard performance. “We’ve been working hard for 11 months. It feels good to be on top.”
Margaritis’ catch put the Crusaders (10-2) there, but they do not win this shootout against a Hayes crew whose 34.4 points per game, no-huddle offense was even better than advertised without receiving contributions from many.
• Cole Burniston jumping a route and making an interception near the goal line to give the Crusaders the ball at their own 7 with 1 minute, 36 seconds left trailing by 44-42.
• Junior quarterback Jayce Johnson outdueling Cardinals counterpart Christian Anderson, who came up 30 yards short of matching the state single-season record for most passing yards in a season. Johnson completed 18 of 21 passes for 287 yards and five touchdowns and added another 57 yards on 11 rushes. Johnson completed six passes on the game-winning drive for 85 yards.
• Woods playing like the top Division I receiving prospect on the field. He out-dueled Cardinal Hayes’ dynamic duo of junior Lucas Nunez and Rutgers-bound Shameen Jones. Woods’ touchdowns covered 18, 35 and 47 yards. The latter was a sensational finger-tip grab on the first drive of the third quarter that extended the Crusaders’ 28-24 halftime lead.
• Senior RaeQwon Greer doing what he always seems to do – delivering a clutch play at the right time. The offensive MVP of the Monsignor Martin final took a screen pass 34 yards on the final drive to put the Crusaders at Hayes’ 27 with 37 seconds left and two timeouts.
• Canisius coaches making the decision to unleash the passing game after the Cardinals devoted their attention toward shutting down a rushing attack that gained 166 of its 218 yards during the first half. That included Mason Hoose (45 yards) and Kenyatta Huston (22) each scoring on long runs for the Crusaders.
“Cole made a great play there and then Zeke Margaritis, Paul Woods, RaeQwon and Jayce,” said Crusaders coach Rich Robbins. “Once again it was a team effort and everyone made plays when we needed it most. … Great job by the kids and my coaches.”
Canisius led most of the way in a game that featured more than 1,000 yards of combined offense (Hayes 514, Crusaders 505), except for a stretch of 7:37 in the fourth quarter. With Canisius nursing a 42-38 lead, it lined up for a 47-yard field goal but Nunez came through and blocked the attempt by Ohio State-commit Blake Haubeil. Nunez (five catches, 146 yards, TDs of 53 and 61 yards) scooped up the ball and returned it to the Crusaders’ 34.
Three plays later, the Cardinals took the 44-42 lead on a well-designed screen pass from Anderson (23 for 34, 380 yards, three TDs) to Elijah Jones. Thrown against the pursuit of the defense, Jones received one key block and easily scored on the 31-yard run-and-catch play.
Hayes’ defense forced a punt with 4:59 left and then marched in six plays to Canisius’ 12. On the move to an insurance/potential title-clinching score, Anderson made a mistake. He threw toward a seemingly open receiver in the end zone, except Burniston jumped the route to give the Crusaders one last chance.
They cashed in on it.
“It feels good to get a ring,” Woods said.
“It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life,” Johnson said. “It’s just awesome.”