BY MATT PARRINO
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — How big is St. Joe's-Canisius? Rivals.com is in town to document this year's contest and Marauders coach Dennis Gilbert said that of 35,000 rivalries across the country ,the annual local showdown between the two catholic schools was chosen as one of the most unique.
For the players that will take the field this afternoon at 1 p.m., Gilbert said that it's their biggest day of the year — "Christmas morning for a football player at St. Joe's."
The Marauders (7-3, 3-1 MMAA) are finally healthy and junior quarterback Dennis Gilbert Jr. is back and 100 percent. Coach Gilbert said today will be the first game all season where everyone is healthy and that's bad news for Canisius. Nigel Davis also returns after missing two games due to a bruised shoulder and Gilbert said he's chomping at the bit to get back out on the field and make plays.
"(Nigel's) been All-Catholic since he was a freshman," Gilbert said. "His numbers this season don't even come close to showing the impact he has on a game. With him on one side and Illo (Noble) on the other — when we're in our spread set, and you have Rod (Payne) in the backfield, pick your poison. I think we'll be very dynamic."
Noble has been one of the best offensive players in Western New York this season. The dual-threat (receiver/running back) can line up outside or in the backfield and give defenses headaches for four quarters. He's rushed for 1,019 yards and has 15 touchdowns on the season.
On the other side of the ball, Canisius has its own dangerous weapon in running back Qadree Ollison. The junior has 16 touchdowns on the season and has rushed for 1,107 yards.
Gilbert said Ollison is his defense's No. 1 priority.
"He's got the full package — he's big, strong, fast, he's a punishing runner with good speed," Gilbert said. "We have to keep him from making big plays because he has the ability to score every time he touches the ball. I think both teams are similar in that we both have guys that can get it in the end zone any time they touch the ball. It's all about who makes plays and who doesn't."
Gilbert said the key to the game for St. Joe's will be the battle upfront: St. Joe's offensive line against the Crusaders' defensive line. He also said that his team must limit turnovers and take advantage of momentum swings.
"The biggest thing for the kids is understanding that there will be times in the game, like there is every year," he said. "It's about how fast you can get it back when it goes against you. You can't get rattled and you have to have the mindset of an assassin."
Rod Payne had 13 tackles last week against St. Mary's (4 TFL) and leads St. Joe's with 79 tackles on the season. He will have a big impact on the game and the Marauders count on his aggressive style to help limit team's rushing attacks.
The local football community will convene at Robert T. Scott Athletic Complex today and Gilbert said it's going to be great game.
"This is what high school football is all about," Gilbert said. "What better way than to go out and play your rival in the last game of the season for the championship in front of 5,000 people or however many people are there. Anybody that is a football purest will be on Kenmore Ave. tomorrow and they're going to see a heck of a game."Contact Sports Editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.