TAMPA — The short end of the scoreboard never looked so luminous to Matt LePain.
The final tally of Thursday night’s preseason classic — Jesuit 19, Palm Harbor University 14 — wasn’t nearly as telling as it was technicality. Before unloading his bench in the fourth quarter, LePain’s team had shown him all he needed to see for one sopping night.
Opportunistic on offense and surprisingly stout with its “extremely vanilla” defense, the ’Canes’ varsity outscored its Tigers counterparts 14-10 over the game’s first 36 minutes.
“I was pretty happy,” said LePain, whose team had to sit through a 70-minute weather delay before kickoff.
“I wasn’t sure, honestly, what kind of team we had yet. … But coming out here and playing Jesuit 14-10 through the third quarter, varsity’s done, we got the win, I was extremely happy.”
Using a variety of run-oriented backfield formations, Jesuit’s varsity outgained the Hurricanes 191-69, and had 10 first downs to PHU’s three. But a Tigers fumble inside their 15 led to PHU’s first touchdown, and a 79-yard kick return by Dominic Bonelli set up the visitors’ other score.
Meantime, the ’Canes defense, which LePain said employed no more than two to three coverages, ended a six-minute Jesuit drive with a stop on fourth and 3 at the PHU 25.
“We’ve got a long ways to go,” said first-year Jesuit coach Matt Thompson, missing his offensive coordinator to a job conflict. “At times we did some things well and did a lot of things that we need to clean up, but we’ll get it cleaned up.”
Three plays after Jesuit’s fumble, Stephen Charron made the Tigers pay with a 6-yard scoring run, giving PHU a 7-0 lead. It grew to 14-3 when quarterback Tyler Kaminski scored on a 13-yard keeper early in the second period one play after Bonelli’s long return.
Jesuit’s varsity would answer with a 75-yard scoring drive to cut its deficit to 14-10 with 5:33 to play in the first half, but wouldn’t manage another first down. The Tigers took the lead for good on a 50-yard fourth-quarter TD on a punt return by freshman Malik Davis.
“In the fourth quarter, I played nothing but JV kids,” LePain said.