Bishop Canevin enters tonight's game against North Catholic with a chance to complete their first undefeated regular season since 2005, the only time the Crusaders have run the table since joining the WPIAL in 1975. Coach Bob Jacoby is in his 38th year at the helm, and this year may be the most impressive coaching of his career. Class A Canevin (8-0, 7-0) averages 41 points per game, while allowing just 6.5. The Crusaders have topped 40 points six times this season, as they look to finish a perfect regular season and win their first WPIAL title since 1990.
The Crusaders have had to overcome more than their fair share of injuries this season. Jacoby said his 44-player roster has had 19 go down with injury throughout the season, and 17 have missed at least one game. "We haven't really had to make too many adjustments in terms of kids changing positions, like maybe making a fullback into a lineman or something," Jacoby said. "We've had kids who have really just stepped up, filled in and now we have more experience than we had before." At this point, though, the Crusaders are healthy, except for four players who are out for the season.
Jacoby credited much of his success this season to his long-time assistants, especially defensive coordinator Mike Lesifko, who has held the position since 1983. "When we first started, there wasn't all this passing, these spread offenses," Jacoby said, but added that one of Lesifko's strengths was his ability to adapt to changes in the game. "As a head coach, I feel very comfortable letting all the coaches coach their positions and their aspect of the game," Jacoby added. That trust has paid off, as the Crusaders have allowed more than eight points just once this season.
Two of the other coaches on the staff have an even longer relationship with their head coach. Jacoby's sons, Eric and Neal, serve as Canevin's offensive coordinator and special teams coach, respectively. Eric has served in his position for 21 years, and Neal has coached under his father since 1999. "Sometimes we get on each others nerves about decisions that need to be made," Bob said. "But I think, all in all, we understand one another and we know what each other are thinking." The duo aren't just there because of the family connection, though. The eldest Jacoby credited Eric with being able to adapt the offense to maximize the abilities of the players on the roster, and said that the Crusaders' field position advantage this season is a credit to Neal's special teams.
Like many schools, a number of Crusaders football players also play on Canevin's basketball team. Jacoby said he encourages this versatility, especially at a smaller school such as Canevin. "They really add that athletic ability to the team," Jacoby said. "A school our size has to get the most out of the athletes that we have." One of the schools most famous alumni, 1971 graduate Tom Clements, went on to play quarterback for Notre Dame, but also had a scholarship offer to play basketball at North Carolina.
One of Canevin's most dangerous players this year has been slot receiver Bobby Gustine. A 5-foot-8 senior, Gustine has 30 catches for 597 yards, 379 rushing yards and has 10 touchdowns on the season. He also returns punts and kickoffs. "He's not just speed," Jacoby said. "He does have the ability to see the whole field and to make the cuts when necessary." Jacoby also credited fellow receiver Colin Jones with some of Gustine's success. Jones returns punts alongside Gustine and has two touchdown returns this season. "If you just concentrate on Bobby, Colin is going to hurt you," Jacoby said."