Crusaders win inagural CHSAA State Title game

 
Cameron Mellor (@CamMellor)
March 17, 2015

 

 

The Crusaders from Canisius High School made history in 2014, capturing the inaugural CHSAA New York State Football Championship. The Crusaders did so in impressive fashion from season’s beginning, to season’s end, defeating Archbishop Stepinac, 23-10 in the season’s culminating game.

 

 

Canisius, paced by their quarterback-running back duo of Jakob Loucks and Mitch Thomas, ran their way to victory to open the season, providing glimpses of what would eventually take them to the State Championship.

 

Aside from their QB-RB duo, a key trait for the Crusaders in 2014 was special teams. In their season opener, Josh Huffman returned the game’s opening kickoff 93 yards for the first points of 2014, en route to a 48-3 rout of McQuaid Jesuit. Loucks threw for two scores and Thomas ran the ball just four times for 67 yards and a touchdown in the victory.

 

Avenging one of their two losses from 2013, Canisius scored early and often against Aquinas Institute before defeating the Little Irish, 34-0. A year prior, Aquinas had handed Canisius a 3-0 defeat.

 

Thomas ran in his first score of the game from 55 yards out, just over two minutes into the first quarter. Loucks threw for one score and rush for another and the Crusaders would receive six additional points from kicker and University of Connecticut commit, Michael Tarbutt, who connected on kicks from 28 and 52 yards away.

 

Two of Canisius’ next four games took place in the state of Ohio, traveling to take on Walsh Jesuit and Bishop Watterson.

 

Against Walsh Jesuit, the Crusaders saw Loucks toss three first half scores while Thomas ran for two scores himself en route to a 40-7 halftime lead. The lone seven points scored by the Warriors came off of a bad snap in the second quarter that was recovered for a touchdown.

 

Tarbutt added a 41-yard field goal in the second half to push the final score to 43-7.

 

After defeating Jamestown, 27-14 and St. Joseph’s Collegiate, 17-0, Canisius again traveled to Ohio, this time to Bishop Watterson, in Columbus. This game marked the fourth consecutive road game for the Crusaders.

 

The Eagles were able to force two Loucks interceptions in the game, but were unable to withstand the rushing attack of the Canisius offense. Thomas rushed 20 times for 159 yards and a touchdown while Loucks and Brad Zaffram added rushing scores of their own.

 

Despite Bishop Watterson QB Sam Maglicic’s best efforts – including a drive as time was dwindling to the Canisius 25 – the Eagles ran out of time and fall to the Crusaders, 21-14.

 

Playing a home game for the first time in over a month, Canisius welcomed Ohio’s Cardinal Mooney to Buffalo, a year removed from a loss at the hands of the Cardinals.

 

The 2014 contest proved to be another evenly matched game between the two schools, except this time, Canisius would come away victorious.

 

After opening up a 17-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter, Tarbutt closed the gap for the Crusaders, drilling a 37-yard field goal to trim the lead to 17-10. With 2:40 left to play, Cardinal Mooney quarterback Jon Saadey fumbled the ball after being hit by Jack Seminara.

 

Mitch Thomas picked up the fumble and score on the play for the proverbial ‘scoop-and-score’ that tied the game, but he wouldn’t be done there.

 

Just six plays later after the Canisius defense forced a quick Cardinal punt, Thomas scored from 26-yards away, giving the Crusaders their first lead of the game, 24-17, with just 0:23 seconds remaining. The score was enough to exact revenge from a 9-7 defeat in 2013.

 

Canisius rode the momentum of the dramatic victory over Cardinal Mooney in the regular season’s final two games, a 37-8 victory over Bishop Timon-St. Jude and a 48-13 victory over St. Francis.

 

The CHSAA New York playoffs started two weeks later and present two very familiar foes to the Crusaders.

 

Head Coach Rich Robbins’ team faceed off against their two most recent opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs, handling both St. Francis (62-19) and Bishop Timon-St. Jude (35-8) easily once again.

 

The inaugural CHSAA New York State Football Championship had been long awaited for prior to the 2014 season beginning. Mother Nature would make fans wait just a little bit longer as the snow storms in November delayed the game a whole week.

 

16 days removed from their last game, Canisius took on Archbishop Stepinac in a battle of teams nicknamed Crusaders.

 

Stepinac and Canisius both entered the game undefeated and both teams looked very much the part in the first half. The only points on the board in the first half came by way of the aforementioned special teams. Stepinac forced a safety on a blocked punt in the first quarter before Tarbutt connected on two field goals in the second quarter.

 

The first of the two field goals permanently etched Tarbutt in Canisius history as he drilled a school record 60-yard field goal. He followed that up with a 28-yarder and the Crusaders took a 6-2 lead into halftime.

 

Stepinac regained the lead to start the second half as dual-threat quarterback Brandon Coleman rushed in the game’s first touchdown from eight yards out.
 

Loucks answered with a 16-yard rushing touchdown of his own to put Canisius back in the lead at 13-10. Tarbutt hit his third field goal of the game after that, a 35-yarder to push the Canisius lead to 16-10.

 

Coleman subsequently drove the Stepinac offense down the field, nearly scoring on a 50-yard rush that took the ball all the way to the Canisius 25 yard line. However, two Michael Kenefick sacks pushed the Stepinac offense to a 3rd and long. After gaining only six yards, Coleman would be intercepted by Jerome Brundidge on a 4th and 16 play.

 

Brundidge’s interception might have ended the game had he simply caught the ball and gone down, however 74 yards of green grass called his name as he returned the interception for the game-sealing touchdown. His pick six pushed the final score to 23-10 for Canisius.

 

 

 

The Crusaders were crowned the 2014 CHSAA New York Football State Champions.

 

Over the past three years, Canisius has combined for a 32-2 record but will have their work cut out for them in the years to come as they will graduate several seniors this summer including the quarterback-running back duo of Loucks and Thomas.

 

Among others, most notably the Crusaders will also be without the services of Tyrone Wheatley who signed his letter of intent with Michigan. Zaffram also signed a FBS letter to play at UTEP while Tarbutt will play at Uconn at the next level and Huffman will play at Maine next season.

 

 

Despite the challenges of losing many great players, coach Robbins and his staff will undoubtedly have the 2015 Crusaders ready to defend their inaugural CHSAA State Title.

 

Offensive stat leaders

Rushing: Mitch Thomas (1580 yards)

Passing: Jakob Loucks (1112 yards)

Receiving: David Thomas (316 yards)

All-Purpose: Mitch Thomas (1777 yards)

Touchdowns: Mitch Thomas (16)

Rush attempts: Mitch Thomas (167 carries)

Receptions: David Thomas (19 catches)

 

Defensive stat leaders

Total Tackles: Brad Zaffram (47/5)

Tackles for loss: Tyrone Wheatley (14)

Sacks: Tyrone Wheatley (9)

Interceptions: Jack Seminara (5)

Interception yards: Josh Huffman (132 yards)

Fumbles forced: Jacob Chaas (2)

 

Team statistics

Total scoring: 419 points

Opponent scoring: 119

Total offense: 3817 yards

Total rushing yards: 2688 yards

Total passing yards: 1129 yards

Opponent offense: 2062 yards

Opponent rushing yards: 769 yards

Opponent passing yards: 1293 yards

Third down conversions: 43/114 (37.7 %)

Opponent third down conversions: 33/137 (24.1 %)

Turnover differential: +16 (22 interceptions, 8 fumbles)