Bishop Canevin gets ground game going to finish off California

Friday, November 10, 2023 | 10:09 PM

Coming into the WPIAL Class A quarterfinal between No. 3 Bishop Canevin and No. 6 California, the Trojans’ running attack was grabbing all the headlines.

But the Crusaders’ pass-happy offense wanted to prove its might on the ground, and they did just that Friday night at Norwin Knights Stadium, as Marquis Carter led the rushing attack behind a stout defensive effort for Bishop Canevin in a 34-8 setback for California.

Carter ran the ball 20 times for 178 yards and surpassed the 1,000-yard plateau for the season.

“I think Marquis took it personal this week,” Bishop Canevin coach Rich Johnson said. “Everyone was talking about Cal’s rushing attack, and rightfully so. But I think our back and our line took it personal. We wanted to play bully-ball and be the more physical team. We proved we can run the ball.”

The Crusaders (10-1) will now play No. 2 Fort Cherry, a 35-0 winner over No. 10 Rochester, in the semifinals next Friday with a site to be determined. Bishop Canevin lost to the Rangers, 48-41, at home Sept. 30.

“We have to stop their playmakers,” Johnson said. “Once again, we have to be physical with their offense, and we have to play Bishop Canevin football. We have to execute our offense, and we are happy to face these challenges. It’s a big-time game and another opportunity to be great.”

California coach Ed Woods knew the Crusaders defense would be tough to run against, and the Trojans (10-2) were limited on the ground in the quarterfinal loss.

“Bishop Canevin is athletic and has a lot of big bodies,” Woods said. “They are quick on offense and defense, even special teams. We could not run to the outside and get those yards on the outside. They just pushed us around up front and we had no answer for their front seven.”

Cal was looking for its first semifinal appearance since 2017, while Bishop Canevin, which won in Class A in 2021, moved on to the final four for the third year in a row.

“We were in this early on, and the score does not indicate how close this game was,” Woods said. “We played pretty good defense and kept their passing game in check. We got pressure on their quarterback, but you have to be consistent. Everyone is good in the playoffs. You can’t make that many mental mistakes. I made some mistakes as well as a coach. We got to learn from this loss.”

After Bishop Canevin had a pair of false starts on its opening drive and was forced to punt inside the 10-yard line, Cal had perfect starting field position at their 30-yard line.

Unfortunately for the Trojans, they could not get a drive going as they failed to convert a fourth-and-2 with a designed quarterback run by Jake Layhue.

“I thought we were solid up front and our defensive ends really kept things in front of them,” Johnson said. “Our defense has really come around after that Fort Cherry loss. We had our guard down and didn’t play physical against Fort Cherry. I think since then, the defense has elevated their play.”

The Crusaders find their offensive rhythm on their next possession and only needed four plays to go up 7-0. Kole Olszewksi found Jason Cross for a 39-yard scoring toss and Leo Shorthouse nailed the extra point with 6:59 left in the first quarter.

Cal had its struggles to start the game on offense, as its running attack was stuck in neutral. The Trojans only managed 1 net yard on their first four drives.

The teams traded turnovers near the end of the opening period. Cross intercepted Layhue, but then on the next play, Fred Sherman recorded a strip sack of Olszewski and Malachi Peak pounced on the fumble.

Bishop Canevin doubled its lead to 14-0 on its first drive of the second stanza when Carter capped off a nine-play, 79-yard drive with a 16-yard touchdown run.

Halfway through the second quarter, Cal picked up its first first down after a 4-yard run by Layhue, and then on its next play, Lee Qualk broke loose and rumbled down the far sidelines for a 55-yard touchdown. A two-point run by Spencer Petrucci made it 14-8 with 3:10 left in the first half.

Both teams failed to score on their final drives of the first half, as Bishop Canevin led Cal 14-8 and outgained the Trojans by a 172-80 margin in the opening 24 minutes of play.

After the squads exchanged empty drives to begin the second half, the Crusaders went up 20-8 when Olszewski found Cross for a one-handed, 5-yard scoring toss on fourth-and-goal.

As the Trojans continued to struggle to move the ball, Bishop Canevin tallied the final two scores of the night when Olszewski found Cross for a 9-yard touchdown pass in the middle of the fourth and A’Zjuan Marshall compiled a 41-yard dash to the end zone.

The Crusaders rushed for 253 yards on the night, while the Trojans only collected a couple of first downs and had 92 yards of total offense.

“I am really proud of what these kids accomplished this season,” Woods said. “They have nothing to be ashamed about. They fought ‘til the very end tonight. It’s just tough to face a team with that many athletes, and it’s hard to play against them as a public school. Bishop Canevin is just different from us.”

Olszewski threw for 115 yards, and Cross caught three touchdown passes that totaled 53 yards.

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