St. Francis crowned Monsignor Martin champions
blog by Dan Ludwig • November 18, 2011 @ 7:00am
Few things in this world are sweeter than revenge—just ask any member of the 2011 St. Francis Red Raiders. Last night at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the team from Hamburg took a dip in the payback pool, beating St. Joe’s 37-16 and taking home the title of Monsignor Martin postseason champions.
Before Thursday night’s tilt, St. Joe’s had beaten St. Francis the last two times the teams had met, with one of St. Joe’s wins coming in last year’s Monsignor Martin Athletic Association championship game and the other in Week 5 this season. With both of these losses still fresh in the minds of the Red Raider players, St. Francis was chomping at the bit to get another shot at the Marauders—a sentiment that their head coach, Jerry Smith, echoed.
“Last week when they played Canisius, I was praying to God that [Joe’s] would win. We wanted Joe’s. The kids wanted Joe’s. Everyone wanted Joe’s,” explained Smith, the recipient of the Bills & National Guard HS Football Coach of the Week award after St. Francis’ 53-8 thrashing of Timon in the semifinals.
Perhaps this hunger for a rematch gave St. Francis a competitive advantage, because the Red Raiders came out firing on all cylinders. After stopping the potent Marauder offense on the first drive of the game, the Red Raiders’ horse, Akeel Lynch, broke off a 62-yard touchdown run on St. Francis’ first offensive play.
Although St. Joe’s was able to answer St. Francis’ touchdown with one of their own, the team from Hamburg stuck to its game plan. Like Canisius High School did against St. Joe’s in the previous week’s semifinal game, St. Francis relied heavily on its running attack. Although this one-dimensional offense might sound easy to stop, the Red Raiders’ scheme gave the Marauder defenders headaches with various Wildcat formations and direct snaps. The play-calling wrinkles paid off at the end of the first quarter, as Lynch strolled into the end zone for the second time in the game. The successful two-point conversion made the score 16-8, St. Francis.
After another St. Francis defensive stop, the Red Raider offense was driving towards its third score when Lynch went down with a turf-toe injury. Although not completely removed from the game, Lynch was limited in his ability and heavily favored the injured foot for the remainder of the game. The star running back finished with 164 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns, a modest stat line considering his torrid start to the game (almost all of his production came in the first quarter of the game).
With Lynch unable to make an impact, junior Alex Misterman’s number was called—and he answered the bell. A couple snaps after Lynch went down, Misterman took a hand-off from quarterback Brian Melisz and scampered to pay-dirt, making the score 23-8 with six minutes left in the first half. Misterman finished the game with 18 carries for 150 yards and one touchdown.
After the game, Lynch spoke to the Red Raiders’ resilience and their ability to continue to perform at a high level despite setbacks. “The team just had to rally, we just had to do for each other [sic]. We’re not a one-man team.”
Even with St. Francis’ strong first half, St. Joe’s had the chance to bring the game within one score before half, but consecutive chop block penalties killed the momentum that the Marauders had established. This was not the only time in the game that lack of discipline hurt the St. Joe’s offense; penalties would continue to haunt the Marauders.
With the score 23-16 after quarterback Chad Kelly ran the ball into the end zone to start the third quarter scoring, St. Joe’s was driving again with the potential to tie the game. With the ball on the St. Francis five-yard line, St. Joe’s took a delay of game penalty on third down. After the third down pass fell incomplete, Kelly, furious at an apparent missed call by the officials, took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. In effect, St. Joe’s had moved themselves twenty yards backwards, eliminating any chance they had of scoring.
Marauder head coach Dennis Gilbert spoke to the miscues saying, “We had turned the corner [in the second half] and were knocking on the door. Unfortunately, some things happened that took us out of that.”
After the penalties killed the St. Joe’s drive, St. Francis took possession and scored on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Melisz to wide receiver Dominic Buccieri, making the score 30-16. The touchdown pass was the only completion for Melisz all game. The quarterback finished the game 1 for 3 passing for 50 yards and one touchdown—the oddest stats for a winning quarterback that I have ever encountered.
Any chance of a St. Joe’s fourth quarter comeback was stifled when Red Raider linebacker Cody Buchanan intercepted a Kelly pass that was intended for St. Joe’s running back Rodrick Payne, who was unaware the ball was coming. After the interception, St. Francis tacked on another touchdown, making the final score 37-16 in favor of St. Francis.
After the game, Buccieri commented on the feeling of being crowned champions. “It’s amazing. We’ve been working together since freshman year, so to have it all come together perfectly at the end is incredible.”
The 2011 MMAA football championship is the first that the Red Raiders have won since 2008 and the team’s fifth since 2002.