CLEARWATER — Jesuit snapped a three-game losing streak to Clearwater Central Catholic with a strong 42-19 victory on Friday night.
The Tigers (4-2) have now won three straight games after starting the season 1-2, losing games to Plant City and Clearwater by a combined 12 points.
Junior quarterback Kiael Kelly combined for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and 197 passing yards against the Marauders. Kelly has shown an evident comfortable level in this offense, rarely getting rattled or forcing throws.
He has a strong chemistry with sophomore wide receiver Jaydn Girard, who hauled in both of Kelly’s touchdown passes.
On the very first offensive play of the game, Kelly hit Girard on a short pass and he proceeded to break down the middle of the field all the way to the left sideline for a 74-yard touchdown.
Girard caught his second touchdown midway through the second quarter on a 10-yard feed from Kelly.
“Last week, we ran that play a couple times and I missed the close one,” Kelly said. “At first, we had (Girard) running a comeback, but I saw the corner press with no safety up top. When they do that with Jadyn there, they are in trouble. I switch the play at the line and threw him a fade. He went up and made a play.”
It was Kelly who put the game on ice to open the fourth quarter with his 5-yard touchdown run at 28-13. This came minutes after a 51-yard grab by Girard.
On the night, Girard finished with four catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
Jesuit played without senior tight end Jonathan Odom, a Florida commit who will miss the rest of the season due to a torn labrum. He is scheduled for surgery next week.
Add in the fact that last year’s top playmaker, Larry Hodges, graduated and is now at Miami, Jesuit has a different look around Kelly. But that hasn’t slowed anything down for the Tigers.
“It is great. We have new additions. ... It is all about teaching them the ropes and keeping this thing rolling,” Kelly said. “Losing Larry (Hodges) that was big, but I think we stepped up to the challenge tonight and we will continue to get better.”
Jesuit earned a nice outing from senior running back Nick Spurlin. He totaled 76 rushing yards and had two scores on the ground of 5 and 1 yard.
The Tigers capitalized on two key turnovers by Clearwater Central Catholic (4-3), including on the Marauders’ opening possession.
Sophomore linebacker Aj Cottrill blocked the punt and junior cornerback Aiden Clark took it 21 yards for the touchdown. Also, junior defensive lineman Reagan Rohrabacher had a strip sack and proceeding fumble recovery to set up Spurlin’s first touchdown in the fourth quarter.
For Clearwater Central Catholic, senior Maryland commit Johnny Newton was flying all around the field. He totaled six tackles and two sacks.
“Johnny (Newton), that is my boy. I remember my freshman year when I was at Tampa Catholic watching him taking over the game,” Kelly said. “It was fun going against him. I knew coming in that he was big guy and if he got a hold of me, I might be going for a ride. He slung me a few times, but I love it.”
Jesuit surrendered the pair of Clearwater Central Catholic scores late in the first and second halves. Junior wide receiver Jarquez Green recorded a 43-yard pass from senior quarterback Zach Burrill with under a minute left in the second quarter. Later, senior running back Jordan Niles galloped down the field for a 59-yard touchdown run with under five minutes left in the game.
For Jesuit, ending the losing streak against Clearwater Central Catholic and winning in all three phases from start to finish adds confidence.
“This just shows that those two losses don’t mean anything,” Kelly said. “We had a few hiccups, which cost us. We really should be undefeated right now and our boys know that. We are just going to continue to show everybody that we are still the Jesuit Tigers that everyone is used to.”