TAMPA — A week ago, an injured Malik Davis spent Jesuit's game against Newsome on the sideline, watching his team struggle to move the ball and desperately wishing he could make things better.
"It felt bad," Davis said, "because I knew I wasn't able to get in and help them out."
Friday in a Class 5A, District 9 matchup with Spoto, the sophomore running back more than made up for his absence, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 166 yards to lead the Tigers to a 32-20 win against the Spartans.
Last season, Jesuit had no trouble with either of its district opponents, beating them by a combined score of 84-16.
The Spartans, though, are a better team this year. And from the very start of Friday's game, they showed it.
Quarterback Kevin Hobley was sacked for a loss of 10 yards on Spoto's opening drive, but on third and 10, Todd Sims caught a 60-yard touchdown pass to give the Spartans an early 7-0 lead.
Sims, a 6-foot-1, 178-pound athlete, scored all three of Spoto's touchdowns, finding the end zone again on a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown and a 2-yard touchdown run.
Jesuit coach Matt Thompson knew to expect some big plays out of Spoto.
"They have some weapons," Thompson said about Sims and wide receiver Terrance Williams, who had three receptions for 55 yards. "But I knew they couldn't do that all night."
Spoto hurt its chances by giving up six turnovers. For the Tigers, it was just an extra opportunity to put the ball in Davis' hands.
Davis, who leads Jesuit with 923 rushing yards, followed a 20-yard Kevin Newman score with a 15-yard touchdown of his own as the first quarter clock expired. In the second, rain poured on Alumni Field, but it didn't slow Davis, who scored again on a 35-yard run.
Spoto closed the gap after Sims' 65-yard interception return for a touchdown, cutting the Tigers' lead to eight. But just when it started getting close, Davis let his team breathe a little easier with a 60-yard breakaway for a touchdown.
"Our offense feeds off him, even the offensive linemen," Thompson said. "When Malik and Kevin (Newman) and even Josiah (Mallan) tonight are running the ball hard, that makes them want to block even harder for them."
In contrast to last week — when the Tigers were plagued by turnovers and lack of offense in a 10-7 loss to Newsome — Jesuit controlled the game Friday, accruing 295 rushing yards and 10 first downs. As a member of a three-team district, Jesuit is just one win away from a championship.
But for now, Thompson is just concerned about watching his team get better. And for Davis — despite his big night — that means continuing to get healthy.
"I'm not 100 percent. About 80," Davis said after the game. "I just had a lot of adrenaline in me, I guess."
Contact Kelly Parsons at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @_kellyparsons.