BUFFALO — Fifth-ranked Aquinas scored from the defensive side of the ball for the third consecutive week, and its big-play offense continued to deliver as the Irish knocked off #28 Canisius in an inter-sectional battle of heavyweights, 35-24. The win marked the third time in as many weeks that AQ played away from Dewey Avenue.
Kobe McNair’s 56-yard scoop-and-score fumble return for a touchdown came close on the heels of Ulysees Russell’s 90-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Szalkowski in the second quarter to break open a close game and push the Irish to a 21-10 halftime lead, a lead that was never in jeopardy in the second half.
“We preach and teach all the time that turnovers are key to a game,” second-year coach Derek Annechino said. “Our Defensive Coordinator (Dave Howlett) tells our players to concentrate on getting turnovers and staying focused. Getting three defensive scores in the first three games has been key for us.”
The win was especially gratifying because it happened on the Crusader home turf, a place that is none too friendly to visitors: Canisius (1-2) hadn’t lost a home game since 2010 and that includes 3 consecutive victories over the Irish.
“It’s such a tough place to win there. It’s a great atmosphere and they do a good job of protecting their turf,” Annechino said of the always raucous Robert J. Stransky Memorial Complex field.
While final score may look like it was a close game, the Irish carried a 35-10 lead deep into the fourth quarter. The Crusaders picked up two touchdowns with less than 5 minutes left to make the score respectable.
“We came out and played very very well today, Annechino said. “I was a little nervous heading into the game, but it worked out. We have a great group of kids and coaches who work very hard.”
Szalkowski turned in another performance under center that belies his sophomore-level status. The first-year starter completed 12-of-17 passes for 219 and 2 scores against the Crusaders. For the season, he has almost has more touchdowns than incompletions: 35-for-47 for 593 and 8 touchdowns and has yet to toss an interception this season.
Junior RB Ruben Torres opened the scoring for the Irish on a 4-yard scamper in the first quarter, and after allowing Canisius’ Tristian Vandenberg to split the uprights from 27 yards, McNair scooped up a fumble caused by senior safety James Jones and took it to the house. Then came the long 90-yard back-breaking pitch-and-catch.
AQ pushed the lead to 35-10 with one score in the third and fourth: The first when Szalkowski hit junior TE Steve Mahar from 14 yards out and then Damon Montgomery finished off the Irish scoring with his own 4-yard run. Junior Joe Bronco was perfected in extra points on the afternoon.
The win ended a three-week run for the Irish who have seen their travels take them to Syracuse, Binghamton and Buffalo. Now the Irish will play at home the next three weeks – against St. Joe’s of Buffalo, Friendship Collegiate out of Washington, DC., and the annual rivalry tilt against McQuaid on October 6. Playing on the road is tough enough; but playing the caliber of teams week-in and week-out is even tougher, especially for a team that has sat on the top of the heap for so long.
“We control what we can control, that’s about it. We can’t let other things affect us. How well we get our kids ready to play is the most important part,” Annechino said. “It sounds cliche, but we take one game at a time. We don’t look past games, because if you do, that’s when you get beat. We purposely play a tough schedule; it makes us a tougher team. But it doesn’t get any easier as we go through our season.”
AQ-Canisius by the numbers:
|AQ||Rueben Torres 4 run (Joe Bronco kick)|
|Can||Tristian Vandenberg 27 FG|
|AQ||Ulysees Russell 90 pass from Tyler Szalkowski (Joe Bronco kick)|
|AQ||Kobe McNair 56 fumble return (Joe Bronco kick)|
|Can||Joe Jamison (Tristian Vandenberg kick)|
|AQ||Steve Mahar 14 pass from Tyler Szalkowski (Joe Bronco kick)|
|AQ||Damon Montgomery 4 run (Joe Bronco kick)|
|Can||Jaurney Boyland 16 pass from Christian Veilleux (Tristian Vandenberg kick)|
|Can||Elijah Haqq 4 run (Tristian Vandenberg kick)|
|Rushing||Rueben Torres 14-80|
|Passing||Tyler Szalkowski 12-17-219-2-0|
|Receiving||Ulysees Russell 3-113; Kobe McNair 4-38|
|Defense||Will Benjamin 10 tackles, 2 Tackles for Loss, 1 forced fumble; James Jones 4 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 3 passes defensed|