It’s hard to ignore 55-13.
Both Canisius and St. Francis are doing their best to act like that final score never happened heading into Thursday night’s Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association football final at New Era Field.
While having a short memory doesn’t make that game go away, that Week Four triumph by the Crusaders also has no bearing on what transpires at “The Cap” when the rivals renew their acquaintances at 6 p.m.
The game is a rematch of last year’s final – a contest in which the Red Raiders ended Canisius’ three-year championship reign with a 42-7 beating of the team that put up 63 points on them during that regular season.
The 2015 final is another reminder not to read into regular-season results when it comes to teams in this league facing each other in the playoffs.
“It’s like last year,” St. Francis coach Jerry Smith. “We look forward, not back. … How do we get better each day?”
“The setting and stakes are the same as last year but this is a new year and a new team,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. “Everyone has to realize it’s a new year, a new game. It’s going to come down to execution.”
The Crusaders have no shortage of playmakers on offense, defense and special teams.
They made an impact in that Week Four game as Canisius blocked a punt, sacked the punter and made three interceptions. The Crusaders also scored five times on plays of 35 yards or longer in that contest, with reserve running back Kenyatta Huston rushing for touchdowns of 77, 52 and 73.
St. Francis is playing better than it did two months ago, as it helps being healthy. The Red Raiders have battled illness and injuries for most of the season with various starters missing practice time up until three weeks ago.
The situation slowed the jelling process for St. Francis’ offensive line, which will likely be without starting center Grayson Myers for the remainder of the season with an undisclosed injury suffered in a Week Five win over Aquinas.
The good news: The unit of Patrick Martin, Tyler Grisolia, Michael Senus, Christopher Leonard and Jadd Dolegala will be together for a third straight game.
The five has helped the Red Raiders offense purr, opening holes for Connolly Cup finalist Dylan McDuffie. The junior has rushed for 361 yards and six touchdowns during St. Francis’ two-game winning streak. The team has amassed 553 yards on the ground in that span, including 233 during its semifinal win last week over St. Joe’s.
A strong running game makes senior quarterback Jerry Hickson, the career passing yards leader in Western New York, even more dangerous. Of course the Hickson effect also could be the reason the run game has grounded down foes the past two games.
“It’s what they’re giving us,” Smith said. “One of the attributes Jerry has is he’s not worried about stats. He’s just trying to win the ball game.”
So too is Canisius, which returned to its winning ways, snapped a two-game losing streak and avenged a Week Eight mud-bowl loss at Bishop Timon-St. Jude by dispatching the Tigers, 42-14 in last week’s semifinal.
The Crusaders rushed for 235 yards and four touchdowns last week with RaeQwon Greer finishing with 99 yards on 10 carries and three touchdowns. A defense led by Mason Hoose, Cole Burniston and Jeremy Cych carried a shutout into the fourth quarter as Canisius scored the first 35 points. The unit recorded 12 tackles for losses and four sacks.
The Crusaders will have to be on point, again, if they want to advance to their second state Catholic final in three seasons.
“St. Francis averages a lot of points,” Robbins said. “We need to make sure our offense is scoring. Defensively, we need to stop the run and keep Hickson guessing.”
St. Francis knows what it must do if it wants to experience a sweet repeat.
“We have to run the ball; we have to stop the run,” Smith said. “We have to win the turnover battle. If we do that, we’ll be OK.”