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St. Joe’s makes it work to stave off St. Francis upset bid

CONTAINMENT — St. Francis’ defense held Nigel Davis to 6 first half yards, but this St. Joe’s senior broke out, during the second half. Photo courtesy of Ron Larson.
St. Joe’s proved its many parts could be used in different places to still make it work for one of Western New York football’s highest-ranked large schools.

When Nigel Davis stepped in as St. Joe’s signal caller and Tyler Hill went back to tight end and could once again assume his role as the team’s do-it-all player, the Marauders could suddenly not be stopped.

After being held mostly in check into the third quarter and leading just 7 – 6, St. Joe’s made a few adjustments, to help put together three consecutive quick-strike scoring drives and then held off a comeback from upset-minded St. Francis in a 27 – 20 win on Oct. 5 at the Red Raiders’ home field in Athol Springs.

The 230-pound Hill began the game running a pro-style offense at quarterback, stepping in for injured sophomore starter Mike McCarthy, who suffered a concussion last week. But Hill’s value on the line of scrimmage and out on the edge was too important and Davis opened up some additional options for the offense from behind center.

“We worked with them both and they split time [at QB] during the week; it’s Tyler’s third year with us and it’s Nigel’s fourth; those are the guys you’ve got to go to when it gets tough,” said St. Joe’s head coach Dennis Gilbert, who was missing seven players, due to injury, and dressed only 27.

“It’s high school ball. It’s midseason; you get one or two guys banged up and all of a sudden it’s like musical chairs,” he said. “You’ve got guys moving all over the place, but the guys stepped up and made some plays.”

St. Joe’s wasn’t the only banged up team. Also playing without their starting quarterback, St. Francis and its freshman backup Gerald Hockson answered all but one Marauders’ scores but, after cutting the lead to seven with 1:10 remaining in the game, St. Joe’s recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock, to improve to 4 – 1. The Red Raiders dropped to 1 – 4, with two of those losses coming by 7 points or fewer.

“They’re a good team and they’ve got some talent,” St. Francis head coach Jerry Smith said, about St. Joe’s. “We’re on the cusp. We’re always in these games. The kids are giving us effort; there’s nothing wrong with the effort. We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot. We make a mistake, which leads to a second and that leads to a third.”

After gaining 6 yards on the ground in the first half, Davis finished with 132 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown, along with hitting two passes for 44 yards, including connecting with Hill on a 23-yard score. Davis ran many of the plays from the shotgun formation. Both players had seen some action at quarterback, last season.

Davis ran for a 72-yard touchdown and connected on his third point-after-kick of the game, to put St. Joe’s up 21 – 6. He also set up the team’s other scores in the half, with runs of 51 and 34 yards. In the process, Davis tied UB graduate Dominic Cook’s career touchdown mark at St. Joe’s with 32. Fellow senior Rodrick Payne added a 15-yard touchdown in the second half, as some running room opened. He made 12 tackles on defense.

“We came out and wanted to run the ball in a pro set, but St. Francis was ready for it and they came to play,” Davis said. “In the second half, coach had me in the backfield and they had to switch formations defensively. It just gave us options and they had to pick their poison. I can hand it off to Rod or pull it back and run.”

After depending on the run for most of the first half – leaning on senior Brendon Misterman – St. Francis opened up its passing game in the final 2-minute drive of the first half and kept some of that momentum going, during the final two quarters. In his second game stepping in for senior quarterback Jake Dolegala, Hickson threw for 205 yards on 14 of 27 passing, with three touchdowns.

He hit Kordell Holness-Lightbody on two of those scores, including a 33-yard Hail Mary pass on the final play of the half, to cut the St. Joe’s lead to 7 – 6 at the break. Holness-Lightbody cut the St. Joe’s lead to 21 – 12, hauling in a 25-yard pass from Hickson with 5:51 left in the fourth quarter. Hickson connected with Ty Lawson on an 11-yard touchdown throw and Lawson converted the 2-point play to bring St. Francis within 7 points with just over a minute to play, but the Red Raiders never saw the ball again.

“We battled back, and I think if we got that ball back it would have been interesting,” Smith said. “I don’t think they were ready for us throwing like we could. [Hickson] is coming along good; for a freshman, that’s a great job that he did, and he’s going to do nothing but get better.”

During the first half, Hill accounted for much of St. Joe’s offense, by completing two passes for 40 yards. One of those passes went for 23 yards to Connor McKenna, to open the game’s scoring with 4:24 left in the opening quarter.

Defensively, Daniel Hector added an interception and 7 tackles; Davis recovered a fumble and McKenna and Hill each recorded sacks for St. Joe’s, while St. Francis’ John Haynes recovered a fumble, as well. The Red Raiders have been playing without fullback and top linebacker Manny Lawson, who popped his hip in a scrimmage.

Both teams hit the road next week, as St. Joe’s is at Cathedral Prep of Pennsylvania on Friday and St. Francis plays MMAA foe Cardinal O’Hara on Saturday afternoon.

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