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St. Francis tops Joe’s to return to Monsignor Martin semifinals title game

The St. Francis Red Raiders wanted revenge after a heartbreaking loss suffered two weeks ago to the St. Joe’s Marauders. On Friday night, the St. Francis offense made very impressive plays that were tough for St. Joe’s to come back from, as the Red Raiders won, 26-14, in front of an estimated 600 at Polian Family Field.

Jerry Hickson was the key player for the Red Raiders, throwing for 106 yards and two touchdowns. The senior quarterback connected with Bryan Dempsey for both touchdown passes that went for distances of 22 and 19 yards. He also ran the ball more than he generally does, rushing nine times for 31 yards. He added a six-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter.

“The bye week really helped. We had the whole week to focus in and tune ourselves up,” Hickson said about the keys to the win. “Coming out we just wanted to run the ball. Dylan” McDuffie “is a great player, but our offensive line really turned it in the second half.”

The running game clicked on all cylinders in the game, especially in the second half. The Red Raiders rushed for 233 yards as a team, 178 of which came from McDuffie. The junior running back had 180 yards on the ground in the loss to St. Joe’s two weeks ago. In the first half, he only managed to gain 20 yards, but the second play of the third quarter really set the tone as he scampered his way into the end zone from 50 yards out.

“I just had to settle in,” McDuffie said. “We made adjustments at halftime because we had trouble blocking their defense, but we got it working.”

With the St. Francis defense playing well, St. Joe’s couldn’t really muster much offense. Sophomore quarterback Casey Kelly was under duress throughout the game and couldn’t get key plays to fall. Kelly threw for 81 yards, while the entire Marauder offense had 193 yards of total offense.

“It wasn’t easy, but they played hard,” St. Francis head coach Jerry Smith said about his defense. “We still have a couple things to correct, which we will do. Hats off to St. Joe’s, they played hard all the way until the very end.”

Turnovers were the key factor in the first matchup with the two teams and it proved to be a pivotal factor, again. St. Joe’s turned the ball over twice, but the penalties were really what haunted the Marauders.

“Turnovers were big. Penalties absolutely killed us,” said St. Joe’s coach Derek Landri. “In the first half, we did well with manageable second and third downs, the second half wasn’t that way.”

St. Francis (4-5) advanced to the Monsignor Martin Championship game Thursday at New Era Field against the Canisius-Timon/St. Jude winner. That game is Saturday at 1 p.m. in West Seneca.

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