St. Joe's sophomore Nigel Davis had a little talk with his mother on the way to Saturday afternoon's showdown with Canisius.
"She said, 'Nigel, you've got to make a big play,' " he recalled. "All last night and for the last week I've just been thinking of making plays, making plays."
He did just that -- and he did it as quickly as one possibly could.
Davis' 85-yard kickoff return began what would be a very enjoyable day for the Marauders and their maroon-clad fans as St. Joe's recorded its third straight win over its rival, 34-20, before an estimated crowd of more than 3,000 at Canisius' Stransky Complex in West Seneca.
From a highlight-filled first half to a momentum-keeping second, Davis, quarterback Chad Kelly and the Marauders continued to stay one step ahead of the Crusaders in what was a very entertaining 79th meeting between the schools.
"It feels great -- Cloud Nine again after last year's wins too," said Kelly, who threw for 198 yards on 8-of-14 passing while he ran 11 times for 91 yards and two touchdowns. "You've got like all of Buffalo out here, and it's just a great feeling knowing that you won and it was a great team that you just beat."
The first quarter had more big plays then most entire games. Davis got things started with his kickoff return as he made a quick move early and then sped through the oncoming traffic before outrunning a defender to the end zone.
After Canisius failed on a fourth-and-4, St. Joe's took over at its 42 and promptly went 27 yards on a hook-and-lateral from Kelly to Yanni Zulia to Davis. On the next play, Kelly ran right and kept going for a 31-yard touchdown and 14-0 lead 3:50 into the game.
Late in the first, Canisius failed again on a fourth down -- this time on a fourth-and-7 at its own 45 -- and Davis ran in for a 1-yard score for a 20-7 St. Joe's lead after the first quarter.
The lead was 20-14 at the half, and Davis and Kelly helped the Marauders maintain control.
Davis, who had 119 combined rushing and receiving yards, came up with an interception on Canisius' first drive of the third quarter, and St. Joe's scored on its ensuing drive as sophomore Rodrick Payne went in from 1 yard out for a 26-14 lead.
With St. Joe's holding a 26-20 lead, Kelly came up with several game-clinching plays for the Marauders.
He converted a third-and-23 with a long pass across the field to Davis that help stretch a drive from the third to the fourth quarter. St. Joe's got some help when Canisius committed a roughing-the-passer penalty, but later Kelly completed a third-and-11 pass to Davis.
On a third-and-goal from the 9, Kelly escaped what appeared to be a sure sack, then bought himself some time before running left and then bursting into the end zone for a score. He took on a couple of tacklers in pounding in for a conversion run that gave St. Joe's a 34-20 lead with 8:27 left.
A team effort by the St. Joe's defense -- including Jordan Sanders (eight tackles, sack) and Nathan O'Brien (two sacks) -- halted Canisius' last two drives.
Canisius stayed right behind St. Joe's all afternoon thanks in large part to senior Mercer Timmis, who ran 36 times for 267 yards and three touchdowns, including a 42-yard run in the first quarter.
St. Joe's, which won last year's Monsignor Martin championship, improved to 46-30-3 against Canisius.
"Joe Wolf was our athletic director for 50 years or something like that, and he was there when I played, and he always said that if you go 0-10 and you win this game, it's a successful season," said St. Joe's second-year coach Dennis Gilbert. "It's a good one for the kids. They have a chance to make their own name for themselves."