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Red Raiders get rematch with St. Joe’s, in semis at The Ralph

LONG RUNS — Senior Brendon Misterman scored on three long runs to lead St. Francis to a 44 – 0 win against Cardinal O’Hara, setting up a MMAA semifinal with St. Joe’s at The Ralph. Photo courtesy of Heather Buccieri.
When St. Francis took on St. Joe’s earlier in the season, the Red Raiders were just starting to get used to playing with a freshman quarterback and an underclassmen-laden roster still needed to do some maturing.

Yet, St. Francis was able to hang in there most of the way, seeing a comeback attempt fall short in a 27 – 21 loss on Oct. 4.

Now, coming off three straight performances, the Red Raiders get another shot at a banged-up Marauders team that still finished the regular season 7 – 2, in the first game of a Monsignor Martin semifinal doubleheader on Nov. 14 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“I’m extremely pleased with the way the team has conducted itself of late,” said St. Francis head coach Jerry Smith, whose group outscored Timon 41 – 6 and St. Mary’s 28 – 0, before beating Cardinal O’Hara 44 – 0 in the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association quarterfinals Nov. 7 on a muddy home field in Athol Springs.

“It will be a good game,” he added. “It’s on turf, so our mud advantage is not there, anymore. They’re going to be well-coached and they have had two weeks to prepare for us. A lot of guys know each other from the city, so it should be fun.”

Senior running back Brendon Misterman continues to battle knee problems that kept him off the field last season, but Smith said that he has been tough as nails, as St. Francis’ catalyst on offense. Misterman broke away for touchdown runs of 75, 59 and 40 yards in the win against O’Hara.

“We’ve been keeping the ball rolling. Ever since St. Mary’s, I think we’ve been playing well,” Misterman said. “We bounced back from some of the tough losses we had, earlier in the season, and the team is coming together and playing as unit. It’s really nice to see as a senior, and having missed my junior season, how far this team has come.”

Also against O’Hara, freshman Jalen Montgomery added a 34-yard rushing score and Rob Dempsey a 21-yard TD run. Freshman Gerald Hickson ran in a QB sneak from 1-yard out. St. Francis’ defense also contributed a pair of safeties, early in the game.

On offense which, at times, is playing only one or two seniors, upperclassman Ryan Zulaski has led an line that Misterman noted has had to go from a pass blocking unit with Jake Dolegala under center to more of a run blocking unit, since the senior quarterback was injured in week two.

Smith said, in attempting to keep his defense fresh, that he has been rotating 18 – 19 different players during the course of a game. There are also only a few seniors on defense. Mike Miller, at safety, Adam Valenti, on the defensive line, Devantie Campbell, at linebacker, and Elliot Buccieri, in the defensive backfield, are among the seniors’ leading the defense. Smith also noted that fullback and linebacker Bryce Carmichael has done a good job, especially with his work defensively.

“We’re all banged up,” Smith said. “If you’re not banged up at this time of the year, you haven’t been laying yourself out there. And our guys are.”

So has St. Joe’s, which will be without two-way standout fullback and linebacker Rod Payne (torn ACL) and have several players banged up, including star back Nigel Davis, who’s been nursing a bad ankle for most of the season.

The Marauders did have a bye week off to rest up, after garnering the second seed for the playoffs, despite a loss to league front-runner Canisius in the regular season finale. St. Francis is the three seed.

“Unfortunately for St. Joe’s, I heard that they have a lot of injuries, so that’s going to give us a little more of an advantage, but also, I think our team’s been playing really hard,” Misterman said. “I think it’s going to be a good match and I’m really excited to see St. Joe’s.”
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