NEW YORK – What a game!
What a rally by Canisius!
Seemingly down and out with under 2 minutes to go facing a powerful Cardinal Hayes offense it had failed to slow down, Cole Burniston made the play to give the Crusaders’ offense the chance it needed for victory.
Jayce Johnson did the rest as the junior quarterback completed a career day by throwing his fifth touchdown pass of the game to Zeke Margaritis with 12 seconds left as Canisius rallied for a 50-44 triumph to win the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association championship Sunday afternoon.
A crowd of more than 3,000 was at Fordham University’s Jack Coffey Field, including roughly 1,000 Crusaders fans who had reason to be loud and proud as Margaritis’ 17-yard catch, followed by him snagging the two-point conversion, provided an epic finish to the final scholastic football game of the season in the state.
Canisius led most of the way but fell behind, 44-42, with 7 minutes, 49 seconds left as Elijah Jones’ 31-yard touchdown catch came on a well-designed screen pass. That was set up by Lucas Nunez blocking a field-goal try and returning the ball to Canisius’ 34.
The Crusaders’ offense went backward on its next possession and was forced to punt on fourth-and-forever from its 15. Hayes drove down to Canisius’ 12 but on a pass call on second and 7 Burniston jumped a route and picked off a pass to give his side the ball at its own 7 with 1:36 left and three timeouts.
With a title hanging in the balance, Canisius made the plays it needed to secure its second title in three seasons. Johnson completed 6 of 9 passes on the drive for 85 yards.
The key plays: A 10-yard pass to Burniston, a 12-yarder to Paul Woods – who played perhaps the best game of his career, and a 34-yard catch and run on a screen by RaeQwon Greer. An offsides on a potential go-ahead field goal try from Hayes’ 21 on fourth-and-4 with 17 seconds left gave Canisius a first down and a decision to make. Coach Rich Robbins opted to send the offense back on the field with no timeouts left and Johnson delivered a fade to the end zone to Margaritis, who took advantage of the height edge in a one-on-one matchup with the corner to make the catch.
Player of the game: It took a team effort for the Crusaders to beat an exceptional Cardinal Hayes team on the road. But Johnson, Woods and Margaritis share this honor as all three came up huge in this one. Johnson completed 18 of 21 passes for 287 yards and rushed 11 times for 57. Woods, the junior who has an offer from Boston College, played like a major Division I recruit in torching the Cardinals for 179 yards on nine catches for touchdowns of 18, 35 and 47 yards. Margaritis, a senior, caught three passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.
Stats: Canisius finished with 505 yards in total offense as its signature ground-and-pound turned into an air show. Hayes, which came in averaging 34.4 points per game and having scored at least 40 points in each of its last five games, was as good as advertised with its Division I quarterback, Christian Anderson, Division I receiver Shameen Jones and Division I prospect Lucas Nunez. Hayes finished with 514 in total offense, with Anderson throwing for 380. Anderson finished 30 yards shy of matching Greg Pawlus’ state season-record of 3,677 passing yards.
First-half scorefest: Defenses had little to hang their hats on during the opening 24 minutes. Canisius stopped Hayes twice on six possessions, while scoring on four of its six possessions. The difference? The Monsignor Martin champions converted four point-after attempts (all extra-point kicks by Blake Haubeil), while the Cardinals failed on two kick and two two-point conversions. After the Crusaders forced a three-and-out punt on Hayes’ opening drive, they marched 53 yards in four plays to the game’s first score with 9:47 left in the quarter on Jayce Johnson’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Paul Woods. That came after three RaeQwon Greer runs for 35 yards.
Hayes needed just six plays to respond as Christian Anderson scored on a 1-yard keeper. The big play was Anderson’s 53-yard pass play with Lucas Nunez on the first play of the drive.
Canisius needed one offensive-play to respond after a 25-yard Kenyatta Huston kick return gave it the ball at midfield. Mason Hoose took a fullback trap play 45 yards for the touchdown.
Hayes replied on Tahshawn Brinson’s 32-yard TD run with 4:01 left in the first quarter. Canisius scored two minutes later on 35-yard TD strike by Johnson to Woods.
Anderson and Nunez hooked up for a 61-yard touchdown to open the second quarter to make it 21-18 but the Crusaders extended their lead on a 22-yard run by Huston with 7:31 left in the quarter. The Cardinals scored with 43 seconds left in the half on a 17-yard run by Carlos Fernandez.
The Crusaders did pass up an all-but automatic field goal trying to convert fourth-and-goal at the 4 late in the second quarter but the Hayes defense stopped Greer a yard shy of the end zone. The Cardinals then marched 99 yards to a touchdown to pull within 28-24.
Canisius’ Haubeil also was short on a 48-yard goal try to end the first half.
N.Y. State’s got talent: There’s no shortage of Division I-caliber talent on either team in this state Catholic final. Each side’s best flaunted it.
Woods, a junior, caught four passes for 96 yards and a two TDs in the opening half.
Hayes’ Division I-prospect quarterback Anderson had two Division I-caliber targets to throw to in Nunez, a junior, and Rutgers commit Shameen Jones. Anderson, who has an offer from Albany, completed 14 of 19 passes in the first half for two touchdowns and 233 yards. Nunez caught three passes for 127 yards and two scores.
Records: Canisius 10-2, Cardinal Hayes 8-5.
Big crowd: Unlike the first state Catholic final, held at Mitchel Field in Uniondale three years ago, this time the fans came out in droves on both sides. Since Hayes is in the Bronx as is Fordham, that’s understandable. The surprise: the big Canisius turnout with at least 1,000 in the house. Of course, the school does have alumni working in the Big Apple.
What’s next: The offseason for both teams.