Who: Canisius Crusaders (8-2) vs. St. Francis (4-5)
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: New Era Field
Television: Time Warner Cable Sportsnet
Rankings: Canisius is ranked No. 2 in the News Large Schools poll and 16th in the New York Sportswriters Class AA poll. St. Francis is ranked seventh in the News poll.
Canisius in the final: The Crusaders are 4-3 in title games under the current league playoff format, which began in 2002. They defeated Bishop Timon-St. Jude, 35-8, in 2014 and also won championships in 2009, 2012 and 2013.
St. Francis in final: The defending champion Red Raiders are 7-3, winning their first title since 2011 last season with a 42-7 rout of Canisius. St. Francis also won postseason championships in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008.
Coaches: Canisius, Rich Robbins, sixth season (52-14). St. Francis, Jerry Smith, 29th season (152-123-4).
Canisius key players and stats: Sr. DE/FB Mason Hoose, 6-1/230 (119 tackles, 34 TFL, 7 sacks; 6 rush TDs), Sr. LB/RB Cole Burniston, 6-3/225 (59 tackles, 19 TFL, 7 sacks; 60-466, 5 TDs), Jr. QB Jayce Johnson, 6-5/200 (56-108, 788, 8 TDs; 58 carries, 456 yards, 5 TDs); Sr. RB/DB RaeQwon Greer, 5-11/185 (88-519, 9 TDs; 41 tackles, 2 INTs); Jr. WR/DB Paul Woods, 6-1/165 (24-450, 5 TDs; 2 INTs); Sr. K/P Blake Haubeil, 6-4/225 (20 punts, 40.0 avg.; 5-8 FGs, 46-46 PATS; 62 kickoffs, 43 touchbacks).
St. Francis key players and stats: Sr. QB Jerry Hickson, 6-1/200 (132-266, 1,981, 18 TDs), Sr. LB Devin Delmont, 5-10/205 (93 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries), Jr. RB/LB Dylan McDuffie, 6-0/198 (178-1,033, 12 TDs; 22 catches, 270 yards, 3 TDs), Jr. WR Retsen Daley, 6-2/193 (31-825, 9 TDs), Sr. RB Bryan Dempsey, 5-8/170 (30 catches, 293, 4 TDs), Sr. OL/DL Tyler Grisolia, 6-3/290 (16 tackles), Sr. FS/WR Sean Campbell, 6-0/166 (52 tackles, 2 INTs).
How they got here: The top-seeded Crusaders defeated Bishop Timon-St. Jude, 42-14, last Saturday in a semifinal. Senior RaeQwon Greer rushed 10 times for 99 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. On defense, he recorded an interception. Junior receiver and Boston College commit Paul Woods caught five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown, while Mason Hoose (10 tackles, 2 TFL) and Cole Burniston (8 tackles, 4 TFL, 2.5 sacks) led a defense that carried a shutout into the fourth quarter.
No. 2 seed St. Francis advanced to the final with a 26-14 win over St. Joe’s last Friday as Dylan McDuffie rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns, while quarterback Jerry Hickson passed for 106 yards and touchdowns of 22 and 19 yards to Bryan Dempsey. Red Raiders forced four turnovers in victory.
Pre-snap read: Everything went right for Canisius in a 55-13 Week Four win over St. Francis. The Crusaders must forget that game since both teams have evolved since then. In order to get the win it wants, Canisius needs to run the ball, stop the run and try to confuse Hickson, the all-time passing yards leader in Western New York, with different coverages. They also need to cash in on play-action pass plays.
St. Francis is running the ball really well of late and must continue to do that to control clock and slow down the Crusaders’ offense. It’ll also give Hickson more time to go downfield for big plays of the swift variety. While Hickson’s overall numbers seem down compared to last year, he’s averaging more yards per pass attempt than in any of his previous three seasons.
In order for the Red Raiders to repeat as champions, they must stop the run, protect the ball, avoid special teams breakdowns and be a little-more sure-handed catching the ball. Frannies receivers have had problems dropping passes, according to coach Jerry Smith
What’s next: The champion advances to the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association championship game on either Dec. 3 or Dec. 4 at a time and site still to-be-determined. The winner will face the New York City champion, Archbishop Stepinac or Cardinal Hayes. The NYC-area Catholic final is Saturday. Both downstate finalists are slated to play in rivalry games on Thanksgiving Day, which means the Monsignor Martin champion will have a bye heading into the state final.