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High School Football: Turnovers cost St. Francis against “better” team in Canisius

Junior wide receiver Julyan Coleman tries to escape a Canisius tackler in St. Francis’ 44-20 loss in the Monsignor Martin semifinals on Nov. 8 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. (Photo by Jeff Barnes)

St. Francis had done so well in taking care of the football that it went from a team with little hope over the first seven games to one finishing the season strong and reaching the Monsignor Martin semifinals.

But already facing an uphill battle against unbeaten Canisius, the Red Raiders reverted back to some bad habits in turning the ball over four times and saw its three-game winning streak and reign as Monsignor Martin champions come to an end.

The league’s top-seed in Canisius built a 17-point lead by halftime, scoring 14 points off of turnovers, and then coasted to a 44-20 win on Thursday (Nov. 8) at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the second of an MMAA semifinal doubleheader. Second-seeded Timon won the first game to advance to play Canisius on Nov. 17 in the final.

“We lost to a better team today,” said Jerry Smith, the coach of fifth-seeded St. Francis. “They are a very good team and they’re rolling, and we had some untimely turnovers and a couple calls that went against us. When things snowball, they snowball. It seemed like we reverted back to making mistakes...We had to be almost perfect against a team that is perfect.”

Junior Qadree Ollison, one of Western New York’s top running backs, finished the game with 230 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. The new single-season rushing record-holder at the school opened the scoring on an 81-yard touchdown after a St. Francis drive was stopped at the Canisius 15-yard-line on a fumble and then he later scored on a 15-yard run early in the fourth quarter.

Canisius’ junior quarterback Tyler Mascio of Derby scored twice on short quarterback sneaks and hit Ryan Richards on a screen pass that went for a 57-yard touchdown. Christian Alaimo hit a first half field goal and David Costanzo added a late short touchdown run. Canisius ran for 289 yards and passed for another 190.

The Crusaders defense didn’t allow St. Francis to get on the scoreboard until the first play of the fourth when senior Alex Misterman ran in a six-yard touchdown. Later, Misterman added scoring runs of two- and 64-yards.

Despite beating St. Francis 51-18 earlier in the season, Canisius was on upset alert with the improvement in play from St. Francis. The Red Raiders, who came into the game off a 52-7 throttling of fourth-seeded St. Mary’s, had also not turned the ball over in the past three games after averaging four over their first seven contests.

“Qadree’s special — he does what he does; our O-line is great; Tyler came to play; and our receivers made some big plays. And I was most impressed with my defense,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. “When you come to play a Jerry Smith-coached St. Francis team, you better be physical. And tonight we were physical on defense and it definitely made a difference.”

Despite a 3-8 mark to finish the season, Smith was proud of the way his team competed throughout the season, especially toward the end in not giving up when it would have been easy for this group to have thrown in the towel.

“I think all of the kids understand that is something that they can take with them the rest of their lives,” Smith said. “When times get down, you keep battling and sticking together, then good things will happen to you. They got a little taste of that. They had a little dream here and that’s better than never having the opportunity.”

Misterman, who finished with over 300 yards and five touchdowns against St. Mary’s, ran well on St. Francis’ opening drive against Canisius but was pretty much bottled up by that physical Crusaders’ defense until the final quarter. He finished with 165 yards on 25 carries and ended the season with 1,586 yards and 16 touchdowns.

No surprise, he was a focal point for Canisius’ defense. Smith said the Crusaders many times gave his offense nine men in the box looks.

“Alex is a great back,” Robbins said. “Just like Qadree, they’re going to get their runs, but we knew stopping him would be a key to us winning and we made him a focus point. For the most part, we did a good job.”

Senior Brian Melisz connected on 6 of 13 passes for 90 yards with one interception, while senior tight end Jarrett Dolegala caught two of those passes for 47 yards in the loss. Also for St. Francis, Dolegala and Mike Miller led the team in tackles, each with 10. Adam Valenti added eight tackles, including two sacks.

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