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St. Francis holds off Canisius for Monsignor Martin Class A football title

When top-seeded Canisius made its move in the second half of the Monsignor Martin Class A championship football game, St. Francis did not get rattled Saturday at UB.

With its two-touchdown lead cut to 14-10, and Canisius with the ball midway through the fourth quarter, the Red Raiders' defense forced a three-and-out and their balanced offense put together one of its more impressive drives of the game.

St. Francis held on for a 20-16 win for the program’s first Monsignor Martin title since 2015, and it avenged a regular-season loss to the defending-champion Crusaders. Depending on their opponent, the Red Raiders will play in the Catholic state championship either the day after Thanksgiving or the f0llowing weekend, according to longtime coach Jerry Smith.

“We had to settle down,” Smith said. “All of us were trying, but with the passion that we have for each other, it was difficult, because everyone wants everyone to succeed. Amid that, it can look loud and chaotic, but we just had to settle down and I think that’s what we did.”

Sophomore standout quarterback Jake Ritts finished 13-for-25 for 207 yards and two passing touchdowns, including a six-yard toss to junior Antonio Corsi with 2:06 left to all but seal the victory.

Canisius senior Joe Jamison returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to cut the lead to 20-16, but St. Francis recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock behind a Xzavier Janczylik first-down run. Janczylik, a junior, was the backfield’s workhorse, carried 20 times for 107 yards on the day.

“We knew we could beat this team,” said Corsi, who caught five passes for 86 yards and added a sack on defense. “Our passing game has been there all year, but our running game really opened up things nicely for us.”

The Red Raiders (5-6) set the tone early, recovering a fumble on Canisius’ first play from scrimmage and cashing in six plays later on Ritts’ three-yard run.

Ritts extended the lead to 14-0 when he connected with senior Daniel Browning on a 77-yard catch-and-run touchdown late in the first quarter. The teams exchanged defensive stands in the second quarter, with the Red Raiders driving 14 plays to the Canisius 24 before being stopped and the Crusaders following it with a 12-play drive halted at the St. Francis 22.

Canisius (5-5) finally broke through on a one-yard quarterback sneak by junior Christian Veilleux with 3:40 left in the third quarter. Senior Joel Nicholas (10 carries, 83 yards) and Jamison ripped off key runs on the drive and senior J.T. Boyland came up with a diving fourth-down catch.

The Crusaders responded with a 27-yard field goal from Tristian Vandenberg to cut the deficit to 14-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

However, it was the balance on offense from the usually pass-happy Red Raiders that made the difference.

“Jake knows he’s the leader of this team and you better respect it, and Xzavier has stepped up to the point where if you drop everyone, he’s going to eat you alive, and if you load the box, he’s still getting three or four yards,” Smith said.

Canisius finished with five sacks, led by two from junior C.J. Ozolins, and Jamison came up with an interception. St. Francis sophomore Thomas Bestpitch recovered a fumble.

“You’ve got to play 48 minutes, especially in a championship game, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. “At times, we just didn’t execute the way we needed to. We knew we were going to be in for a battle tonight.”

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