By Keith McShea
Canisius and Jamestown have set a date for the 2014 football season, The Buffalo News has learned.
This will be a rare nonleague meeting of top-flight large schools from Section VI and the Monsignor Martin Association, and the timing is excellent because of how the two programs finished the 2013 season.
The teams will play at Jamestown's Strider Field in Week Four: Friday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m.
The schools are expected to officially announce the matchup later today.
Discussions began in December, including when Canisius coach Rich Robbins and Jamestown coach Tom Langworthy talked about scheduling a 2014 game at Dick Gallagher's Western New York football banquet.
“I'd like to thank Jamestown's Tom Langworthy and Ben Drake, and our coach, Rich Robbins, for their efforts to bring this game together,” Canisius athletic director Jim Mauro said in a prepared statement. “Anytime you are able to get two strong programs competing on a Friday night under the lights is great for Western New York high school football.
"While our team's goal, and Jamestown's, is to advance as far as possible in our respective leagues, games such as these provide memories that last a lifetime for its participants. We want our team to be measured against top competition, and Jamestown's addition to our schedule certainly provides that.”
“It doesn’t get much better than having the top two teams in the area -- the best private school and the best public school – play under the lights on a Friday night,” three-year coach Robbins said in a statement. “The game will be a good challenge for our team and exciting for fans of high school football.”
Langworthy told The News that scheduling an opponent like Canisius was something he and his staff discussed at the conclusion of this past season.
"In our meetings at the end of season, we talked about different things we can do to enhance our program and take it to higher level," said Langworthy, who has coached Jamestown since 2008. "Rich and I talked briefly at the banquet, then I shot him an email two weeks ago to get the talks going, and that's how it played out.
"Everyone is excited about it. It's an opportunity for us to compete against a really good program and showcase two great football programs with excellent athletes and excellent kids. It's a win-win.
"At this point, for where we are as a program right now, it's the right move. We don't want to be complacent. It's a step to be more competitive and have a more rigorous nonleague schedule. The message we are sending to our players is that we always want to get better."
Unfortunately, Section VI large schools, for the most part, have refused to play local private schools going back for more than a decade. There has been good progress in recent years, with notably Clarence hosting St. Joe's this past season, Lockport hosting St. Joe's last year and Williamsville South playing Bishop Timon-St. Jude for the last two seasons.
Jamestown and Canisius met at Canisius' Stransky Field in West Seneca in 2009, with Canisius winning, 28-2. Jamestown finished 3-6 that season while Canisius went 6-5 and won the Monsignor Martin championship.
The 2014 game is being played in Jamestown because the Red Raiders were the visitors for that 2009 contest.
North Tonawanda, which won the Class AA state championship in 2009, hosted games against St. Francis in 2007 (42-13 loss) and St. Joe's in 2008 (42-10 win).
Erie County's best programs have refused to play nonleague games against private schools, notably Orchard Park (winners of 13 Section VI Class AA titles and finalists at The Ralph in 12 of the last 13 years) and Sweet Home (which won six straight Class A titles and 69 straight Section VI games before losing to Williamsville North in this year's final).
Orchard Park regularly played an annual nonleague series with St. Joe's through the 1980s and '90s, but I believe that ended in 1998.
This reporter has often written since that time, that as long as the best public and private large schools don't play nonleague games, Western New York high school football will never be as good as it could be. Here's to a great step in a positive direction.
Canisius coaches told me that they have an opening remaining on their 2014 schedule.
Orchard Park and Sweet Home, it's never to late to say no and leave an ignominious history on this subject behind. Or how about Williamsville North? The Spartans are coming off a great run to the state championship game and they have plenty of returning standout players.