TAMPA — From the hours before kickoff to the game’s final seconds, Jesuit watched its misfortunes pile up in Friday’s regular-season finale against rival Tampa Catholic.
Starting quarterback Vincent Testaverde came down with an appendicitis. The Tigers threw three interceptions. A snap sailed over the field goal holder’s head in the final two minutes.
“Everything was against us,” Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said. “But our kids are resilient.”
So they were triumphant again.
Jesuit used a breakout night from freshman Malik Davis and two late defensive stands to earn its 14th consecutive win over TC, 13-9.
The drama started before the game, when Testaverde took the field in street clothes. Junior Trent Wessel inherited the starting job with little time to prepare. That, Thompson said, left his team with two options.
“Your team can either be deflated or they can inflate and they can rise to the occasion,” Thompson said. “I think that’s what all the kids did.”
Jesuit’s offensive responsibility fell to its ground game.
Davis, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound spark plug, outgained TC (8-2) by himself in the first half, 101-69. He finished with a game-high 125 yards.
“He’s an incredible running back,” Jesuit sophomore linebacker Parker Looney said. “I can’t wait to see what he does when he gets older.”
Wessel was 5-of-19, but three completions went for first downs on his team’s best drive, an 81-yarder capped by Kevin Newman’s 1-yard rush that put the Tigers (7-3) up 10-0 at halftime.
That turned out to be enough cushion for a Jesuit defense that totaled seven sacks, including two by senior Jack Taylor and one by Division I-A recruit Vincent Jackson.
“We just had them under duress the whole game,” Looney said.
TC, Class 3A’s No. 1 team, responded in the second half. Senior TJ Harrell bulldozed his way for a 34-yard touchdown rush on his team’s first drive to cut the Tigers’ lead to 13-6. Senior Willie Conley snagged his second interception of the night on the first play of the fourth quarter. Eight plays later, the Crusaders faced first and goal at the 3 before a delay of game and Drew Paulsen sack forced them to settle for a field goal.
The Crusaders missed three consecutive passes on their next series to turn it over, but a Jesuit mistake gave them one more chance. The snap sailed high on the Tigers’ field goal attempt, giving TC the ball 45 yards away from the end zone.
That’s as close as they got to ending its streak. Looney switched from a speed rush to a bull rush to sack TC twice in the final four plays and send Jesuit into the playoffs with its biggest win of the season.
“I knew my team would come through,” Davis said. “I didn’t get too discouraged. I knew what was going to happen.”
So did most of the jam-packed crowd at Jesuit. Fans on both sides had seen it 13 times before.