The Canisius football team had about two minutes to make a valiant comeback Friday at New Era Field.
The Crusaders faced a four-point deficit in the waning minutes against their crosstown rival, and managed little movement on the first two plays of their final drive of the fourth quarter. It was likely that St. Joe's was going to earn its first win against the Crusaders since 2011.
But junior quarterback Christian Veilleux and his team took a collective deep breath, and began hitting passes. Finally, on the 10th play of the drive, Veilleux found Jason Martin for an 18-yard touchdown pass with seven seconds left to help the Crusaders seal a 34-28 win.
“Our team is a very strong team, a very disciplined team, and we just came together and pulled this out,” said Martin, who had four catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns. “Christian made a great play, and he’s a (Division I) caliber quarterback for a reason.”
Composure in the final moments was crucial for the Crusaders, especially for Veilleux. He wasn’t intimidated by the stakes or by the NFL surroundings.
“Before the drive, I told the guys, ‘this is the drive for us, this is the drive for our season,’ ” said Veilleux, who threw for 205 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-25 passing. “I said to them, ‘if we don’t convert on this and we don’t stay calm, we’re not going to get this. Believe in yourselves, know what we’ve got to do, and we’re good for this.’ ”
St. Joe’s coach Derek Landri was tight-lipped when it came to discussing Canisius’ final drive. When asked what happened from his perspective, he deferred to the Crusaders.
“You’ll have to ask them,” Landri answered.
In a game dotted with penalties and with two players ejected for receiving multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, the Crusaders squandered a 12-point lead in the second half, as quarterback Micah Brown powered the Marauders with 79 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries. St. Joe’s also dominated on time of possession in the third quarter, allowing the Crusaders only 10 offensive plays in the 12-minute span.
“The last series, the offensive line did a great job giving Christian Veilleux time,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. “And he’s a special player at quarterback. We had a great drive there at the end, and Jason Martin made some big catches and big plays there.”
The Crusaders (2-3) took a 7-0 lead on Veilleux’s 46-yard touchdown run about two minutes into the game, then doubled the score about two minutes into the second quarter on a 21-yard touchdown run by Joel Nicholas.
The Marauders (1-4) answered with 4:20 left in the half, as David Morgan’s 4-yard touchdown run capped off a nine-play drive in which St. Joe's made the most of a possession of nearly six minutes, passing the ball only once and cutting Canisius’ lead to 14-7.
St. Joe’s last drive of the first half was futile. Brown attempted four passes on four plays, but couldn’t thread the needle, as the ball bounced out of the hands of his intended receivers. On fourth down, Brown only managed a yard, and turned the ball over on downs to Canisius.
Canisius needed only four plays to open their lead. One play after he took a thundering hit as he rushed for seven yards, Veilleux and the Crusaders capitalized on first-and-10 from the Marauders 18. Aided by a 15-yard penalty for illegal contact, Veilleux found Martin for an 18-yard touchdown, which gave the Crusaders a 20-7 lead with 28 seconds left in the half.
The Marauders dominated the third quarter, outgaining the Crusaders 230-157. Brown scored the first of his three third-quarter touchdowns four minutes into the second half, on a 1-yard run, and after Veilleux stretched Canisius’ lead to 26-14 with 4:55 left in the third on an 8-yard pass to J.T. Boyland, Brown answered again with a 6-yard touchdown run.
With 8:04 left in the fourth, Brown scored his third touchdown, and St. Joe’s blocked a field goal attempt two minutes later. The Crusaders recovered the ball for a touchdown, but officials waved off the play due to a penalty for illegal touching.
Then, with 2:09 left, the Crusaders kicked off the decisive drive from their own 25. Two plays into the drive, on third-and-19 from the Canisius 16, Veilleux found Joe Jamison for a 23-yard pass, then reached the St. Joe’s 49 on a 17-yard run.
On second-and-10 from the Marauders 32, Veilleux completed a pair of 7-yard passes to Calhoun Lewis, then evaded a defender on first-and-10 from the 18.
“On that last play, I dropped back and saw nothing,” Veilleux said. “When I rolled out, I saw nothing, but my receiver knew exactly what to do.
He found a leaping Martin in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with seven seconds left.
“It was a busted play, so I just made an instinctive, football decision,” Martin said. “Just break off my route and get up there for the quarterback.”