TAMPA — Last year, Derrick Friga broke his neck on the first day of practice and watched as Jesuit lost to Wauchula Hardee in the Class 2A region semifinals.
Friday, the fully-recovered senior free safety sparked a Jesuit defense that bent, but seldom broke in a 24-13 victory over Hardee. The undefeated Tigers (11-0) play Robinson next week.
Friga recovered a fumble — one of four turnovers by Hardee (3-8) — and made a touchdown-saving tackle as Jesuit avenged last year's 49-21 loss.
"We knew that Hardee was better than a 3-7 football team," Jesuit coach James Harrell said. "It was hard to get the kids going early on, but our guys responded well."
Jesuit never trailed after Anthony Harrell, the coach's son, scored the first of his two touchdowns on the game's first series. In the second quarter Friga tackled Jacob Mayer near midfield after the Wildcat running back appeared to have a clear path to the end zone. In the third, Friga's fumble recovery at the Hardee 25 set up a 20-yard TD from Patton Chillura to Travis Johnson, giving Jesuit a 24-7 cushion.
"Our defense will bend, but we won't break," Friga said. "We knew it wasn't going to be the last game for the seniors; we've worked too hard for too long to let it come to an end."