LANCASTER, N.Y. (WIVB) — On a legendary Friday night under the lights at Foyle-Kling Field, two of Western New York’s premier football programs played a game for the ages. Lancaster outlasted Canisius in a back-and-forth final quarter to win 24-20. Here are our four observations:
An overflow crowd of close to 3,000 came to watch one of the most highly-anticipated local matchups in years, with this era’s top public and private school programs meeting for the first time. Canisius has won seven Monsignor Martin Athletic Association championships in 10 years, while Lancaster has won five Section VI Class AA titles
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Lancaster coach Eric Rupp said. “A perfect night. A great crowd. Two programs going back and forth. I’m just really happy that we prevailed at the end.”
Lancaster had not played against one of the area’s private schools in this century. Canisius played eight Section VI opponents since 2004, but none of this caliber since going to Jamestown in 2014.
“That’s why you schedule a game like this,” Rupp said. “It is going to prepare you down the road. Whether it’s sectional playoffs, or state playoffs, I believe it’s going to help us achieve our ultimate goal.”
Lancaster entered the night undefeated and ranked No. 15 in the state in Class AA. Canisius was ranked 20th with its only loss against one of Ohio’s top programs. Both are consensus top five teams in WNY this season.
“I would rather play games like that every week than play in a blowout,” Canisius coach Kraig Kurzanski said. “Good for Lancaster, good for Canisius, good for local football. They’re the No. 3 team in Western New York. We’re No. 4. It probably played out like that, unfortunately.”
Anticipating a large crowd, Rupp chose this to be a Crucial Catch game, donating half of the gate revenue to the American Cancer Society. Fans were encouraged to wear pink to raise awareness for breast cancer, and the Legends’ cheerleaders waved pink pom-poms.
“We wanted to dedicate this game to the American Cancer Society, because it’s affected so many people in our community, myself included,” Rupp said.
“I lost my dad two years ago on Father’s Day to pancreatic cancer. So it has special meaning to me.”
Lancaster raised more than $4,000 during the spring by selling Legends Fight Cancer shirts. Friday night’s game should surpass last year’s largest Crucial Catch fundraiser, when West Seneca West was able to donate $3,000. Orchard Park held a Crucial Catch game in its season opener in honor of alumnus Dan Kubik, a former University at Buffalo player who died from cancer in June at age 22. Local schools interested in hosting a Crucial Catch game are encouraged to contact Joe LaVare from the local ACS chapter.
As far as catches go, none was more crucial than Jack Harrington’s 27-yard touchdown that put Lancaster ahead with 2:15 remaining. Harrington finished with 46 yards on four receptions. Quarterback Max Stoldt was 12 of 23 passing for 140 yards.
Canisius receiver Jahyden Clark made a spectacular one-handed catch on a fourth down pass that gave the Crusaders a 20-17 lead with 4:05 remaining in the fourth quarter. Clark had a 22-yard touchdown reception that gave Canisius its first lead entering the third quarter. Evan Dean caught a 17-yard touchdown in the first half. Canisius quarterback Nicholas Penuvchev was 16 of 30 passing for 194 yards and three scores.
Connolly Cup nominee Micah Harry carried Lancaster’s offense with 140 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including a 76-yarder for the opening score in the second quarter.
Brendan Mahony’s interception in the red zone sealed the win for Lancaster with 20 seconds left to play. Mahony had gambled for an interception on Clark’s touchdown to end the previous drive.
“He went from goat to hero, real fast,” Rupp said.
Rupp gave the game ball to senior linebacker Peter Handy, whose mother died from an illness earlier in the week.
“This game is for my mom and these next three weeks are going to be for my mom,” Handy said. “She was a great caretaker. And now the team has got my back.”
Lancaster (5-0) has another big matchup on senior night Friday against Bennett, which is ranked No. 11 in the state in Class AA. The Tigers won 62-0 on Friday night against Maritime Charter. The Legends close out the regular season against divisional foe Orchard Park and historical rival Depew.
Canisius (3-2) is on the road at Washington (Ohio) and Erie (Pennsylvania) before playing at WNY No. 1 St. Francis on Oct. 22 in a game that will determine the top seed for the Monsignor Martin playoffs.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.