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Canisius weathers storm, resumes title chase

Turns out there is something that can slow down Canisius on the football field.


But temperatures have heated up, the snow has stopped falling and the show will finally go on for the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association. After two postponements due to the lake-effect storm, the private-school league will crown its champion as unbeaten and nationally ranked Canisius (10-0) meets Bishop Timon-St. Jude (8-3) at noon Saturday at All High Stadium. Tickets are $7 and available at the stadium on game day. Gates open at 11 a.m.

The winner plays downstate Catholic champion Stepinac of White Plains on Dec. 7 at Mitchel Field in Uniondale, Long Island. The game was originally scheduled for Sunday at Hofstra, but the game date and venue changed due to the storm.

“The weather has definitely played a lot of havoc on the schedule,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. “It’s an act of God. People lost their lives in this thing. It’s a crazy natural-disaster thing, so obviously high school football had to take a back seat. But we’re all happy to get back to playing. … It’s an honor to still be playing high school football this time of year.”

Also Saturday, two-time defending state champion Randolph faces IX-Chester at noon in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D final at the Carrier Dome. Jamestown looks to win its first state Class AA title since 2000 when it faces IX-Newburg Free Academy at 6 p.m.

In Buffalo, all eyes will be on the all-Catholic battle at All High to see if Canisius, the state’s top-ranked Class AA team, can continue its quest for a perfect season and a school-record 12 wins; or if the stubborn, tough-as-nails outfit from South Buffalo can play the role of spoiler and win its first MMA playoff title.

The Crusaders, ranked No. 35 by USA Today, are the News’ No. 1 large school, while the Tigers are ranked 10th.

“The first thing we’ve got to do is not turn the ball over,” said Charlie Comerford, whose Timon squad dropped the regular-season meeting to Canisius, 37-8, at Paul Fitzpatrick Field. “We have to prepare to protect the ball. Hopefully they’ll commit turnovers and we’ll be in a tight ball game at the end.”

That strategy sort of worked for Timon in its last game. St. Joe’s committed six turnovers – including four in the second half – as Timon rallied from a 21-7 deficit to beat the Marauders. Timon relies on the big-play arm and legs of senior quarterback Brandon May. He has thrown for 2,027 yards (9.69 yards per passing attempt) and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 528 yards (6.4 per carry) and eight scores. Running back Arenzo Thomas set the Timon single-season record for rushing yards (1,572) and has also scored 11 TDs.

The Tigers also committed five turnovers in that game, which is why they found themselves in catch-up mode.

While the Tigers have some talented players, Canisius seems to have more of them, especially on the defensive side of the ball – even without senior standout linebacker Brad Zaffram (suspension). The Crusaders yield 9.5 points and 186.1 yards per game.

Senior defensive end TJ Wheatley ranks second on Canisius with 54 tackles, including 19 for loss in roughly seven games. Wheatley, who has battled a lower-body injury since Week Eight, returned to the lineup for the semifinal win over St. Francis but sat out the second half with the Crusaders comfortably ahead. James Thomas, who plays on the opposite side of Wheatley, leads Canisius with 8.5 sacks.

“With their defense, you’re not going to score 35 points,” Comerford said. “We’ll have to score 16 points and hold them down to two touchdowns. … No one’s really moved the ball on them. If we have a chance to win, I don’t see it being a shootout.”

Canisius will be playing just its second game in 28 days. The Crusaders earned a bye into the MMA semifinals against St. Francis and had some rust to shake off after that 11-day hiatus before seizing control.

What’s it going to be like after a 16-day layoff with no game?

“It’s pretty unique for a high school team,” Robbins said. “It’s definitely some uncharted waters we’re heading into here.

“If you can’t block and tackle at this point, you’re in trouble.”