Who: Canisius Crusaders (8-2) vs. St. Francis Red Raiders (6-4)
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Ralph Wilson Stadium
Television: Time Warner Cable Sportsnet.
Rankings: Canisius is the co-No. 1 Large School in the Buffalo News poll and is ranked fifth in the state among Class AA schools. St. Francis is ranked sixth in the News poll and is an honorable mention in the state poll.
Canisius in the final: The three-time defending champion Crusaders sport a 4-2 record in title games under the current league playoff format, which began in 2002. They defeated Bishop Timon-St. Jude, 35-8, last season at All High Stadium. At The Ralph, Canisius won championships in 2009, 2012 and 2013.
St. Francis in final: 6-3. This is the Red Raiders’ 10th title-game appearance but first since winning the title in 2011. St. Francis won playoff titles in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008.
Coaches: Canisius, Rich Robbins, fifth season (44-11). St. Francis, Jerry Smith, 28th season (147-117-4).
Canisius key players and stats: Sr. QB Tyler Stranahan, 6-1/195 (69-136, 1,204 yards, 9 TDs, 6 INTs; 54 carries, 288 yards, 4 TDs), Jr. RB Cole Burniston, 6-3/215 (120-924, 10 TDs; 8 catches, 114 yards, 1 TD), Sr. WR/LB Justin Jones, 6-3/190 (29-589, 7 TDs; 75 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 INTs), Jr. DL Mason Hoose, 6-1/220 (62 tackles, 13 TFL, 8 sacks), Sr. WR/DB Desmond Nicholas, 6-0/180 (17-437, 3 TDs; 15 tackles, 4 INTs), Jr. K/P Blake Haubeil, 6-3/205 (26 punts, 38.0 avg.; 4 FGs, 32 PATs).
St. Francis key players and stats: Jr. QB Jerry Hickson, 6-2/200 (158-311, 2,042 yards, 18 TDs, 13 INTs), Sr. RB Brandon Metz, 5-9/185 (138-1,039, 13 TDs; 42 catches, 608 yards, 4 TDs; Sr. RB/LB Robert Dempsey, 5-7/170 (72-473, 6 TDs; 19 catches, 199 yards, 1 TD), Jr. LB Devin Delmont, 5-10/195 (87 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 FR), Sr. LB Michael Williams, 5-9/180 (78 tackles, 1 TFL), Sr. S Taureen Davis, 6-1/188 (68 tackles, 8 TFL, 7 sacks, 2 FR).
How they got here: Canisius advanced to the final by defeating St. Joe’s, 7-6, in a semifinal game last week at The Ralph. St. Francis routed Timon, 49-18, in the other semifinal game at The Ralph.
Pre-snap read: This is the second time these teams will meet this season. Canisius won the earlier matchup, 63-34, at St. Francis. That game turned into a blowout after being an evenly played game through the opening half. During the first half, St. Francis turned takeaways into cheap easy touchdowns, bolting to an early 14-0 lead. The Red Raiders need another quick start like that but need to do a better job of finishing, which they obviously didn’t do back in October. Riding Metz early would be wise because it’ll open the passing game for third-year starter Hickson, who has thrown for more than 2,000 yards.
Canisius is the three-time defending champion. While it struggled with rival with St. Joe’s, it still found a way to win and advance in the tournament. Establishing the run game is a must with Connolly Cup finalist Burniston, who is dinged up but battled through the semifinal. Hoose is another threat to run the ball and scored the game-tying touchdown against the Marauders. He’s also a stout defender. Canisius QB Stranahan has a chance to gain revenge against the team that knocked him out of the lineup for a game and change back in Week Five. If it’s a nice day, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Stranahan go vertical and take advantage of Canisius’ outside speed.
What’s next: The champion advances to the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association championship game at 1 p.m. Nov. 28 at Grand Island High School where it will face the New York City champion, Archbishop Stepinac or Cardinal Hayes. The NYC-area final is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and will be streamed online at msgvarsity.com.
— Miguel Rodriguez