TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) — A competitive effort from St. Joe’s energized one of Western New York’s most passionate high school football rivalries Saturday, before Canisius surged in the second half for a 39-22 victory on enemy turf.
“Maybe next year!” the visiting Blue Crew student fans taunted toward the Rowdies from St. Joe’s at opposing ends of a crowd exceeding 2,000, overflowing from the grandstand at Robert T. Scott AFSC Athletic Field Complex, and audibly resonating several blocks away from the school on Kenmore Avenue.
“It’s awesome man, playing Joe’s is something else,” Canisius senior Mike Doctor said. “I’ve been playing for four years, and nothing is better than beating Joe’s.”
St. Joe’s still leads the all-time series 48-46-3, but Canisius is catching up with wins in 16 of the past 17 meetings since 2012. Last year, the Crusaders set a rivalry record with their 66-0 win at Stransky Memorial Complex.
“None of that matters,” said Crusaders coach Kraig Kurzanski, a 1984 Canisius graduate in his first season coaching his alma mater after 15 years at Williamsville South. “I’m not a fool. I know history. … But I don’t really put much into that. It’s our time. It’s these kids’ time. So they have to enjoy the moment.”
The Marauders are on the upswing under third-year coach Mike Corona, a former University at Buffalo player. St. Joe’s started 3-0 for the first time in nine seasons, and stood up against their rivals for the better part of three quarters Saturday.
St. Joe’s outgained Canisius, 338 yards to 322, according to the Marauders stat crew. They rushed for 242 yards, just about matching the Crusaders aerial output. Dion Anderson led the ground attack with 156 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, while gaining another 21 on a reception. Quarterback Aaron Jentz had 88 yards on 17 runs, and he scored twice on keepers, giving St. Joe’s a 14-7 lead in the second quarter, and a 22-19 advantage in the third. He was 6 of 15 passing for 96 yards.
Canisius quarterback Nicholas Penuvchev was sterling, completing 30 of 36 passes for 244 yards and four touchdowns, while running for a fifth score. Sophomore receiver Jahyden Clark caught 11 passes for 95 yards and gained another 29 on the ground. Evan Dean had five receptions for 50 yards and two touchdowns. Dyrell Howard-Dolson also ran for a TD.
“Big shoutout to the offensive line,” said Doctor, who caught 10 passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. “They stayed in the game the whole time, they never quit. Some of those guys are playing both sides of the ball, and they kept going the whole game.”
The Crusaders defense forced two fumbles in the third quarter that led to touchdowns and helped decided the outcome. Canisius outscored St. Joe’s 26-8 after the first takeaway, a strip sack by Nyzell Lash that was recovered by Patrick Sullivan.
Canisius, ranked No. 25 in the state in Class AA, won for the third week in a row after a season-opening loss at Ohio power Walsh Jesuit. The Crusaders also have won against one of the best teams in Section V territory at Aquinas, and at home last week against Maritime Charter, which is ranked 18th in the state in Class A.
“We played Ohio, we played Rochester, we played a fair Maritime team, and a really good Joe’s team,” Kurzanski said. “You’re in some tough moments in games like this, and easy games, you don’t get those moments. Maybe that’s why we overcame those moments today in this game, and Joe’s didn’t. Because they haven’t been in that game yet. But they are a good team, with some nice kids, and they played real hard.”
Canisius will get another opportunity to rise to the moment under the bright lights next week when it plays at Lancaster, the No. 16 team in the state in Class A.
“I’m excited to play on a Friday night against a top public school,” Doctor said. “We don’t get many chances to do that.”
In another big high school football matchup Saturday, the highest-ranked local team, Bennett, at No. 11 in Class AA, won 52-10 at Orchard Park, handing the Quakers their first loss in four weeks.
The Tigers rushed for more than 400 yards, led by Cureem Hathcock (10 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown), Jameer Thomas (seven carries for 78 yards and a touchdown), Noah McDuffie (seven carries for 44 yards and a touchdown), and Jayden Lewis (four carries for 30 yards and a touchdown). Antonio Davis threw touchdown passes to Aaron Roseboro, Thomas, and Lewis. Davis threw for 90 yards on nine attempts and gained another 20 on his only run.
Bennett hosts Maritime on Friday night before visiting Lancaster for a crucial Class AA contest Oct. 7.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.