UP HIGH FOR THE BALL —St. Francis receiver Elliot Buccieri (right) goes up for a catch in the MMAA semifinal. Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes.
St. Francis controlled the clock, but St. Joe’s controlled the scoreboard.
Despite the disparity in time of possession, the Marauders made the best of their offense’s time on the field, to play their way into the Monsignor Martin football title game against top-seeded Canisius on Nov. 21. The Marauders defeated St. Francis 38 – 14 on Nov. 14 in the league semifinals at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
St. Joe’s possessed the ball for more than 19 minutes, while St. Francis ate up nearly 30 minutes of clock, yet failed to give the boys in maroon, any sort of second-half scare. The Marauders struck quickly, scoring three of their four touchdowns in drives that totaled three plays or fewer. Senior running back Nigel Davis scored twice on the ground, while sophomore quarterback Mike McCarthy tossed two through the air.
“There hasn’t been many times this year where we won the battle up front, with out offensive line,” Marauders head coach Dennis Gilbert said. “We did today. It’s been about six weeks since we did that, but we finally got guys healthy and back in their spots.”
Davis, who has been hampered with an ankle injury since week six, played at approximately 80 percent, the senior said afterward. During the evening, he rushed for 143 yards, highlighted by two quick touchdown runs.
“We just did not play our best,” St. Francis head coach Jerry Smith said. “We gave them two touchdowns on broken assignments and blown coverages, and we just couldn’t get on track. No matter what we did, it just seemed like it backfired for us.”
St Francis struck first in the second quarter on a 3-yard run by Brendan Misterman, to give his team a 6 – 0 lead. St. Joe’s answered, on its longest scoring drive of the game, capped when McCarthy hit John Schmidt for a 23-yard touchdown.
After showing run, and drawing both Red Raiders’ safeties up around the line of scrimmage on the following possession, McCarthy connected with Justin Jones on a go-route down the middle, for a 40-yard touchdown.
St. Francis’ other score came on a Francisco Guzman 5-yard touchdown run, after a long kickoff return from Garth Pinnock deep into St. Joe’s territory.
With the score 14 – 12, Davis ran for a 35-yard touchdown and the Marauders never looked back, firing off 24 unanswered points, to close the game. Davis struck again in the third quarter, after St. Francis had been stopped on the 16th play of its drive. Davis broke off a 51-yard TD run down the right sideline.
“That’s what we need. That’s what our team is based on: big plays,” Davis said. “Our defense played great; big plays just generate energy and that’s what we are and we make [happen].”
The St. Joe’s defense came up with a fourth down sack of St. Francis freshman quarterback Gerald Hickson, to halt the drive and set up the long Davis run. It was one of the Marauders’ season-high four sacks on the evening.
“They had the ball the whole third quarter,” Gilbert said. “As much as I hated it, I just kept looking up at the clock, going, ‘OK, it’s kind of bend and don’t break defensively.’ The kids never quit; they kept their head up and they found a way to make a stop, and then Nigel is dynamic. When he gets the ball in his hands, he had great vision.”
The Marauders defense held St. Francis to 20 total yards, in the first half. They also took away the St. Francis passing game, which nearly led the Red Raiders to a comeback win in the teams’ 27 – 20 game, earlier in the season.
Junior Cordell Owens and senior Anthony Castellani both led the team with 10 tackles, with Owens racking up two sacks, a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries, while Castellani added a sack of his own.