Josh Huffman and Canisius finished off a perfect season at 11-0 with a 28-20 win over Timon-St. Jude in the Monsignor Martin championship game on saturday (Nov. 17) at Ralph Wilson Stadium. (Photo by Jeff Barnes)
Canisius didn't want to just return a league championship in football to the school in 2012; the Crusaders were going for perfection.
After coming up just two points shy of playing for a Monsignor Martin championship in 2011, Canisius entered the season with high but what it thought was attainable aspirations.
“If I was to share with you the document we handed out on the first day of camp, our number one goal was to go 11-0, a perfect season,” said Canisius head coach Rich Robbins.
After, literally and figuritively, running through the regular season unbeaten and taking care of business against St. Francis in last week’s semifinals, the Crusaders found themselves just one win shy of seeing their season plans come to fruition.
They had to go out and beat a tough and stingy Bishop Timon-St. Jude team that was riding a wave of momentum after knocking off St. Joseph’s for the second time this year, a first in school history. The Tigers were shooting for their first outright league title since 1994.
After a seeing a 14-0 first quarter lead turn into a 20-14 third quarter deficit due to turnovers, the Crusaders were able to regain control, and retake momentum as they scored the game’s final 14 points to win 28-20, and take the MMHSAA championship for the first time since 2009.
The win capped off Canisius' first unbeaten season since 1976 when they went 7-0-1.
“It’s been an amazing 11 months,” Robbins said. “I don’t think a lot of people outside of our lockerroom believed that we could do it, but man, these kids answered the call. They answered the challenge.”
Canisius, as per usual, was led by running back Qadree Ollison. He finished the game with 38 rushes for 195 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score that came on the possession after Timon took its first, and only, lead of the game.
“My offensive coordinator has a lot of faith in me,” said Ollison. “When the whole coaching staff has faith in you, it’s a great feeling. Just to know that they care, and that they know you can get it done.”
The Crusaders couldn’t have asked for a better start. They forced back to back three and outs by Timon and turned their first two drives into touchdowns to give them a 14-0 lead after the first, but that lead would not be safe.
It took a host of St. Joe’s tacklers to take down Jackson Brown in Timon’s Monsignor Martin semifinal victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium. However, Timon would come up short, 28-20, in falling to Canisius in the championship game. (Photo by Jeff Barnes)
After the Tigers were able to score a touchdown on a Ryan Dougherty pass to Bryant Fulton, who beat cornerback Denzel Benton, on a fade route to the corner of the endzone early in the second, you could sense that momentum was swinging toward Timon. On the ensuing Canisius drive, quarterback Tyler Mascio was pressured and threw an errant pass that was intercepted by Timon’s Brad Wellenzohn, who returned it 52 yards for a touchdown to tie the game up at 14.
After the Crusaders were forced to punt, the Tigers were on the verge of scoring again when Benton went up and ripped a sure touchdown pass out of the arms of Fulton for an interception in the endzone.
“The first play I let him score so I had to come back and make a huge play for my team,” said Benton. “I knew he was hurting so I just had to go up and get it.”
Even though Canisius couldn’t capitalize on the interception — fumbling the ball just three plays later, they received another break when Timon missed a field goal as the first half expired.
After falling behind 20-14 on an Adam DiMillo touchdown run, the Crusaders, a team known to play better in the second half, began to go with what brought them to the big dance, running the ball with Ollison.
On the first Canisius drive after they fell behind, Ollison ran the ball every play except one, and wound up in the endzone on a 13-yard run on third-and-goal. A successful extra point which followed gave his team the lead for good. He would add one more for insurance late in the fourth to secure the Crusaders' victory.
The win seems fitting for a team that suffered heartbreak to finish last year, and for the seniors on the roster, it was a script with a Hollywood ending.
“It was a perfect season,” said senior lineman Ryan Hunter. “Nothing really went wrong this year. Everyone played for each other, and we’re just a big family. We care too much for each other to have this end in a loss.”