Xavier Nelson sparks Bishop Canevin to 1st WPIAL title in 31 years

Friday, November 26, 2021 | 4:22 PM

With a chance to play at Heinz Field, Xavier Nelson took the opportunity to look like the All-Pros and Heisman candidates who usually call the stadium home.

Nelson scored three long second-quarter touchdowns, which sparked Bishop Canevin to its first WPIAL football title in 31 years with a 42-7 victory over Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in the Class A championship game Friday afternoon.

The three scores by the junior receiver/defensive back came as Canevin (13-1) took control of the game with a second-quarter flurry. The Crusaders scored three touchdowns in a 1:55 stretch and 28 points in the final eight minutes before halftime after trailing 7-0.

“I was just really happy for us, because once I scored those three touchdowns, I knew we had a good chance to win that game,” Nelson said. “From there, I just felt we had all the momentum.”

A high snap on an OLSH (9-4) punt set up the Crusaders with first-and-goal, and Keshawn Harris scored on a 6-yard run to tie the game 7-7 with 7:54 left in the half. Nelson then took over after a three-and-out by OLSH.

First, he used his blockers and scored a 67-yard touchdown on a wide receiver screen from Jason Cross down the right sideline. On the next play from scrimmage, Nelson picked off OLSH quarterback Nehemiah Azeem and scored on a 45-yard interception return, making it 21-7 with 5:59 still left of the clock.

Nelson ended his huge quarter with a 35-yard touchdown catch from Kole Olszewski, making the score 28-7 at half. Nelson’s only two catches were the touchdowns, giving him 102 yards total.

Canevin’s defense took things from there, as it had five sacks, intercepted four passes and recovered a fumble in the game. Marquis Carter, Keyshawn McCaskill and Jayden Lindsey all recorded interceptions after Nelson’s pick six, as the Crusaders forced OLSH out of its run-first game plan.

“It is a bit like blood in the water. We smell that — not fear, but we sense a mistake coming,” senior defensive end/linebacker Willie Banks-Hicks said. “Our defensive front gives them no time, makes them throw wobbly balls and throw interceptions, and even getting sacks. Our (defensive) front is nothing to mess with.”

For OLSH, moving the ball became a struggle. The Chargers gained 82 yards in the opening quarter — which included their touchdown, a 6-yard pass from Azeem to Stephen Greer — but finished the game with only 121 yards of total offense.

“As a team, we play best when we control the time of possession. We like to hold the ball as much as we can and have our run game but still keep it versatile with the pass game,” OLSH senior lineman Gavin Tonery said. “It definitely wasn’t what we were looking for. Our situation didn’t work in our favor.”

Canevin put the game away in the second half with a 9-yard scoring pass from Olszewski to Banks-Hicks and a 52-yard run by Jaiden Torres to round out the scoring. Torres finished with a game-high 62 yards on six carries, and he led the Crusaders with eight tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Greer led OLSH offensively with 52 yards on 19 carries.

The WPIAL championship marks a rapid turnaround for the program under coach Richard Johnson, who took over before the 2020 season at a program whose last district title was in 1990. The coach said the thrill winning a WPIAL title hadn’t yet set in for him, but one of his team’s leaders disagreed.

“Yeah, it definitely hit me,” said Harris, a senior who finished with 46 yards rushing and a sack. “Especially coming from where I came from, it’s not even good. From 1-9 (in 2019) and having three different coaches in three years. I’m just happy right now. I don’t even know what to say.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.

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