A third time was the charm for the Canisius Crusaders on Saturday, defeating the St. Joe’s Marauders at Niagara University by a 1-0 score to claim the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association Championship.
The win, which was the Crusaders’ third over the Marauders this season, was one that the Crusaders needed to eke out through their defensive play and by imposing their will physically.
“Every time we play against St. Joe’s, it gets really intense,” Canisius Head Coach Chris Stuff said. “You very rarely see a game that’s a blowout, so we knew it was going to be a dogfight, especially defensively. That certainly turned out to be the case.”
The Crusaders and Marauders kicked off their MMAA title match by engaging in a defensive struggle. Throughout the game, it seemed as if any one kick could turn out to be a goal.
“It’s so big to get momentum going first against a team like St. Joe’s, because you know the longer you let them hang around, the more likely it is that they’ll come back and get you,” Stuff said. “They’re a real good team and they can play with anyone.
“When you play against a team as often as them, everyone knows each others’ skill sets, so there’s not much to hide,” Stuff continued. “It pretty much becomes a battle of wills, so to be able to beat someone like them a third time in one year is pretty special.”
Nine minutes into the first half, however, the Crusaders struck first with a goal by sophomore Alex Nemeth. Nemeth put the goal in on a deflection off his head after senior JP Bobak attempted a corner kick.
“That goal was huge for us,” Nemeth said. “It put us ahead, but it was kind of hard for us to keep the lead after it because (St. Joe’s) didn’t really allow us to get much pressure afterwards. We really needed to have good communication after that goal so we could defend well, and we got it.”
“We had been working on those deeper corner kicks in practice, because we had been kind of unsuccessful on those all year,” Stuff said. “We had been trying everything, and Nemeth, who hadn’t scored all year, got a good deflection. He had the opportunity to start at outside back today, and he really stepped up for us today.”
The Marauders attempted to get pressure on the Crusaders, but hardly got any good scoring chances. Throughout the game, whenever the Marauders would get into Canisius’ territory, they would either turn the ball over or shoot the ball wide of the net.
In the second half, it was more of the same in regards to scoring chances, but one aspect of Canisius’ game became obvious. The Crusaders were relentless in their backchecking, and their efforts towards getting back and getting into positions to block passing lanes and shots was the biggest key for the Crusaders’ win.
“Over the last few years, St. Joe’s has been a more physical team than us, and I respect that,” Stuff said. “We really needed to be aggressive and more physical and I think we stepped out to that challenge by going after 50-50 balls, matching their toughness and cycling back and giving that secondary support.”
Play also became quite chippy in the second half. Multiple players went down after hard collisions between each team, signifying the long-standing rivalry between the two schools. A scrum also occurred between the Crusaders’ goalkeeper and Marauders’ senior Logan Sherman, which resulted in a yellow card, the fourth penalty the team took during the contest.
It also resulted in Bobak suffering a leg injury late in the second half. Bobak was helped off of the field and it is not known whether he will be able to participate in the Crusaders’ next game.
“My hat’s off to Canisius, they played very well today,” Marauders head coach Mike Thoin said. “They’re an excellent team, and I wish them luck in the next round.”
The Crusaders will advance to the state tournament next week and will take on three other schools in order to become state champions.
“Last year we won a game in the tournament and 19 players on this team were here last year,” Stuff said. “This year, they don’t want to get to states and just hang around. They want to win, so we have the mindset that they can play with anyone in the state and represent Western New York and Canisius well.”
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