St. Francis may be the defending Monsignor Martin Athletic Association football champion but the Red Raiders understand they’re not the favorite to repeat, not after a roller-coaster regular season.
That’s just fine with St. Francis – the Red Raiders plan on saving their best for last again this season.
They showed that on Friday night in the MMAA semifinals, avenging a regular season loss with a 26-14 victory over St. Joe’s.
“We are the defending champs but we may be viewed as an underdog,” quarterback Jerry Hickson said. “Most of the seniors have stepped up in the second half, we’re looking to get back with that attitude and bring that winning attitude back to The Ralph.”
It was at The Ralph last year when the Red Raiders rolled past top-seed Canisius for the championship. St. Francis will play at 6 p.m. Thursday at New Era Field against the winner of today’s Canisius-Timon showdown.
“It feels great because we are the defending champion,” St. Francis coach Jerry Smith said. “I reminded them that we have to play up to that level. Tonight, they took a step toward that. We’re not there yet but we’re getting closer.”
Hickson threw two touchdown passes, both to Bryan Dempsey, ran for another while Dylan McDuffie ran for 143 of his game-high 162 yards in the second half, including a 50-yard touchdown sprint for St. Francis (4-5).
“I think the main thing is just grit,” McDuffie said. “That’s what we say every day in practice. No matter what’s on we make sure we play gritty. Sandpaper always wears out the rock.”
In the regular season meeting, McDuffie torched the Marauders for 180 yards in an 18-14 St. Joe’s win. It looked like St. Joe’s had solved that issue as the standout back was limited to 19 yards in the first half. A few halftime adjustments did the trick for the Red Raiders, though. McDuffie went for 50 yards and a TD off the left side of the line in his first carry of the second half and it was more of the same for the rest of the game.
“Coming out, we just wanted to run the ball,” Hickson said. “He’s really turning things up these last few weeks. He’s running hard, he’s running down hill … He was kind of banged up in the beginning, but now he’s really coming along which is really helping us.”
On Oct. 22, St. Joe’s rallied to beat St. Francis in Kenmore. The Red Raiders were hurt by mistakes, namely four turnovers. This time around, St. Joe’s was hurt by the mistakes, highlighted most in the fourth quarter when on four different occasions, St. Francis faced a fourth down and short and was bailed out by St. Joe’s jumping offsides for the first down.
For the Marauders, Casey Kelly ran for a pair of touchdowns. St. Joe’s ended its season at 4-7 overall.
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