What happens when two of the best teams in the state get together for a football game?
Lots of entertaining moments, from momentum-turning plays that make fans go “wow” to an outburst that produces a collective “whoa” − and the game’s turning point.
The “whoa” moment enabled the Canisius Crusaders to not only gain a measure of revenge against old friend Aquinas of Rochester, but also to pass their first tough assignment of the season with another reigning postseason champion waiting in the wings.
Canisius overcame some gaffes of its own making, rallying for a 33-20 victory over defending state Class AA champion Aquinas on Saturday afternoon. An estimated 2,000 came out for this heavyweight contest at the Stransky Complex, as a steady rain at the start gave way to cloudy skies.
A host of Crusaders made impact plays that enabled the News’ No. 1 Large School, ranked second in the state Class AA poll, to take down a Little Irish crew that’s better than their current No. 18 ranking.
Mason Hoose’s 2-yard third-quarter touchdown run gave unbeaten Canisius (3-0) the lead for good, while a defense that had trouble tackling for most of the day limited Aquinas to just 10 yards during the final quarter.
“They’ve been a state power for a long time,” winning coach Rich Robbins said. “We had a messy first half but I thought the boys did a better job in the second half executing what we needed to do and got a big win.”
The Crusaders, who came in having beaten their first two foes by a combined 106-12, figured to be challenged by the Rochester private school that has won two New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association championships the past three seasons. They were and then some.
The opening Canisius needed to pull away came courtesy of the Aquinas coaching staff. After sophomore Caron Robinson (15 carries, 216 yards, two TDs) gained 20 yards on a run that gave the Little Irish (1-2) a first down at Canisius’ 20 – the officials penalized them 5 yards for aiding the runner.
One of Aquinas’ assistants didn’t agree with the call, resulting in an unsportsmanlike-conduct flag. That resulted in coach Chris Battaglia getting flagged seconds later and, ultimately, ejected while trying to question the officials.
Battaglia said he didn’t swear or yell before his dismissal, but he did appear to be giving everyone a piece of his mind on his way to the locker room after receiving the boot.
“I was questioning the penalty and he didn’t like I was questioning the penalty,” said Battaglia of the official. “I’m embarrassed I got thrown out.”
While senior Cole Burniston shined on both sides of the ball (12 carries, 131 yards, one TD; eight tackles, three for losses), RaeQwon Greer helped the Crusaders pull away in the fourth quarter. He rushed six times for 36 yards and an 8-yard touchdown that made it 27-20 with 3:40 left.
Greer (six tackles) also broke up an Aquinas’ pass on what became the Little Irish’s last drive of the game. His 11-yard run in the final minute secured the outcome, giving Canisius first-and-goal at the 3.
Instead of kneeling out the time, the Crusaders – still smarting over last year’s 42-14 loss at Wegmans Stadium – ran two more plays, with Hoose scoring from the 1 before the final horn.
“Getting that revenge felt good,” said Hoose, who finished with 12 tackles, five for losses, and two sacks. “I’m glad we (won). I wasn’t able to sleep all year because of that game last year.”
When Burniston broke a scoreless tie with 2:34 seconds left in the first quarter via 64-yard touchdown run, it seemed as if Canisius was going to cruise to its second win in three seasons over Aquinas. The Little Irish tied it 70 seconds later on Robinson’s 77-yard touchdown run.
Two interceptions and a fumbled punt by the Crusaders after that score opened the door for Aquinas to tack on two second-quarter field goals for a 13-7 lead.
Canisius’ Jayce Johnson (6 for 13, 94 yards, five rushes, 70 yards), making his second varsity start, settled down as he ran around left end on a read-option play for a 40-yard touchdown with 4:43 left in the first half.
Though he tossed two interceptions in the first half, he completed 5 of 8 passes in the second half – hooking up with Keenan Ollison on a 42-yard gain on a third-and-13 play during the possession that ended with Hoose’s go-ahead touchdown run.
“For a young guy to have a bit of a rough patch and come back and make some of the throws and even some of the runs,” Robbins said. … “I think his confidence is growing and he’ll only get better.”
Canisius has some stuff to clean up before it faces defending Monsignor Martin champion St. Francis at 1 p.m. Saturday at Stransky. But being able to overcome mistakes and a reigning state champion is a nice building block.
“Anytime we beat Aquinas it’s good for our program,” Robbins said.