PITTSFORD – Jayce Johnson is a luxury the Canisius football team plans to enjoy this season. He's big, athletic, and more importantly he's an experienced starter at the all-important quarterback position.
In case anyone forgot, he's also a dangerous playmaker.
Johnson flaunted all of his skills Friday night at Pittsford Sutherland High School, as the 6-foot-5, 205-pound senior accounted for four touchdowns and directed an offense that amassed more than 400 yards, as Canisius defeated Section V power Pittsford, 42-27.
An estimated crowd of more than 1,500 watched both teams with aspirations for contending for state championships combine for 10 get-out-of-your-seat plays, including four of at least 35 yards.
The reigning New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association champion Crusaders, however, delivered most of them to earn the right to return home with the season-opening triumph over a very good Panthers team that should make some noise in the postseason come late October and November.
Johnson rushed 11 times for 146 yards and three touchdowns and completed 14-of-21 passes for 164 yards and another score, as the Crusaders pulled away after both teams battled to a 14-14 stalemate through two quarters.
"I'm way more comfortable (with the offense)," said Johnson, who played some of his best football last season during the playoffs. "Coaches expect more out of me this year and I expect the same out of myself."
"He led us tonight," Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. "With his poise and the way he operated out there I've been telling everyone he's a special player. ... Hopefully people start to notice."
The Panthers did, and it didn't take long for Johnson to gain their attention. On Canisius' first offensive play of the game, Johnson gained 58 yards on a run to the outside. He rushed for 65 of the 72 yards on that possession, ending it with a 1-yard touchdown run.
With the game tied 7-7 in the second quarter, Johnson scored again on a 6-yard run, a TD he set up a play earlier with a 29-yard scramble.
Of course he wasn't done.
Johnson did not score the next Canisius touchdown but gained 13 yards on a fourth-and-3 play that kept the Crusaders' first drive of third quarter alive. The possession ended with Joe Jamison's 8-yard touchdown run which gave the Crusaders the lead for good.
That touchdown was one of two Canisius scored in a 10-second span with Jamison in the middle of the action. He ripped the ball out of the hands of running back Chris Cox on Pittsford's next play after a 15-yard gain to give the Crusaders possession. Johnson, who received great protection throughout the game by his line, then delivered a 35-yard strike into the end zone to Rutgers-commit Paul Woods.
"Basketball fans started to know who Joe Jamison was last year but Joe's a special player," Robbin said. "That's just something he does. We used to watch JV film of him last year and he would just rip the ball out of people's hands."
Pittsford did not fold, though, as twice the it pulled within a touchdown. Each time the Panthers inched closer, Canisius scored.
After Cox's 1-yard run made it 28-20, Kenyatta Huston broke away on the next play for a 66-yard TD run. That led to some fans heading for the exits.
They should have stayed in their seats a little longer as they missed a sensational 65-yard touchdown run by Panthers quarterback Matt LaRocca. His score with 6:07 left made things interesting.
Plenty of time for a comeback, except Canisius turned out the lights for good after a short delay due to a power outage. Johnson did the honors, scoring on a 25-yard run with 3:49 left. On that drive, Johnson completed a 27-yard pass just after the lights came back when the officials resumed the contest.
"The quarterback and the running back, they're explosive," Pittsford coach Keith Molinich said of Johnson and Huston. "(Johnson) ran through tackles."
The win shows that Canisius still will be a tough matchup even though it graduated a pair of first team All-Western New Yorkers. The game also showed it still has some work to do, which is expected considering it had nine defensive players starting for the first time.
"We missed a lot of tackles," Robbins said. "Again that's part of being young. Make no mistake about it Pittsford's a very good football team. They're big upfront. I expect them to make some noise in Section V."