St. Joe's hosts rival Canisius on Saturday, and the only predictable thing about the game is Jim Mariano will be there.
The 57-year-old Tonawanda resident and 1965 St. Joe's graduate has missed only one St. Joe's-Canisius game since 1955.
As a gift for his eighth birthday, his father, the late Angelo, took him to the 1955 PAL-sponsored game that drew a crowd of 28,009 to Civic Stadium. Mariano's cousin Charlie Ries was among the participants, along with game MVP Herman Brauch and Canisius' Mike
Muehlbauer, who went on to Notre Dame.
"It was my first game, I couldn't believe what I saw. The atmosphere was unbelieveable," said Mariano. "Canisius had the ball on the 1-foot line, and we stopped them as the game ended (in a 12-7 Joe's win)."
Mariano hasn't missed a game since, except in 1993 when his daughter was involved in a serious car accident.
"It really got to me when I was young. I lock in the date every year," he said. "You get to see fellow classmates as the St. Joe's community shows up for this game."
St. Joe's coach Bob O'Connor hopes to give Mariano, a 1965 classmate, and the other fans in maroon plenty to cheer about this weekend.
St. Joe's has won four of the last five meetings, including 20-7 last year. The Marauders own a 39-24-3 lead in the series, which began in 1921 and has been played annually since 1948.
St. Francis (3-0) has already clinched a home Monsignor Martin Association playoff game. If St. Joe's (1-1) beats Canisius, it will host Timon/St. Jude (1-2) in next week's League AA semis.
If Canisius (0-2) wins, it would created a three-way tie with St. Joe's and Timon at 1-2, and the other home playoff game would be determined by a tiebreaker.
O'Connor said the keys to beating Canisius' single wing are "staying at home, finding the ball and scoring points."
Leading the St. Joe's offense has been quarterback Naaman Roosevelt, who has completed 50 of 90 passes for 904 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 472 yards and five TDs.
Sophomore Dominic Cook averages 24 yards on punt returns and 28.4 yards on kickoff returns.
Joe Bremer was 1-1 against St. Joe's when he coached at St. Mary's. He takes on St. Joe's for the first time as Canisius' coach.
"We just have to play better defense," said Bremer. "At this point our defense has been up-and-down."
Bremer lauded senior Russ Rizzuto (722 yards on 126 carries), whom he said "plays tailback the way you'd like someone to play tailback."
Heading into the final weekend of the Section VI regular season, 12 of 20 playoff spots are still up for grabs.
* In Class AA North, North Tonawanda has clinched one of the two playoff spots. Williamsville North controls its destiny, needing to beat Lockport on Saturday for the second spot. Niagara Falls would go with a win over visiting Niagara-Wheatfield on Friday and a North loss to Lockport. In Class AA South, West Seneca West advanced and Orchard Park will join it with a win at Jamestown on Saturday.
* In Class A North, if Sweet Home beats visiting Williamsville East on Saturday, the Panthers go and Lewiston-Porter advances as the second team. If the Flames win and Lew-Port wins at Starpoint on Saturday, there's a three-way tie and the second spot is determined by point differential. In the South, Hamburg will be joined by the winner of Friday's Iroquois at Lake Shore game.
* Tonawanda and Albion are the representatives in Class B North. In the South, Olean has qualified along with the winner of Friday's Springville at Southwestern game.
* In Class C North, if Cleveland Hill beats JFK it clinches, and if Silver Creek beats Gowanda it goes. In the South, Falconer and Portville are in.
* In Class D East, the top three teams advance. If Ellicottville beats Forestville, the Eagles go as the No. 1 seed. If Maple Grove and Pine Valley win their games, then Pine Valley is the No. 2 seed and Maple Grove is No. 3.
* In the West, if Panama beats Sherman, Panama gets the division's single berth. If Sherman beats Panama by 15 points or more, it goes. Panana hasn't reached the playoffs since 1994.