TAMPA — It was Joe Pesansky’s first day as a student at Jesuit High School, and as the senior was learning his way around campus, he also became indoctrinated to a tradition the Tigers hold dear.
"As soon as I came to the school, a couple guys were like, ‘Oh, you’re the quarterback? You’ve got to beat TC,’ " said Pesansky, who transferred from a high school in Virginia. “Everybody, the whole school knows. TC, TC, TC.”
Mention Tampa Catholic, the high school less than 3 miles down the road, to a Jesuit football player, and The Streak is sure to become a topic of conversation. The rival schools meet at the end of every football season, and for the past 20, Jesuit has come out on top.
There have been blowouts, and there have been last-second thrillers, but for two decades the Tigers have always found a way. So as they prepared for the latest matchup, Pesansky’s coaches and teammates had to do what they could to prepare their new quarterback for the experience.
“We had to show him old film and photos and hype videos,” Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said, “because he had no idea.”
This one looked a little different, as the coronavirus prevented the kind of energy and packed stadium that the rivalry game is used to drawing. But in some ways, Pesansky helped make it look just like the previous 20, throwing for nearly 200 yards and scoring a late touchdown to lead Jesuit to a 35-21 victory Friday night at Crusader Field.
Jesuit is at River Ridge next week for a Class 5A play-in game. Tampa Catholic hosts Cypress Creek in a Class 4A region quarterfinal.
The Tigers (9-0) scored first when linebacker Troy Bowles recovered a blocked punt and ran it back for a touchdown. Tampa Catholic (5-2) responded with two consecutive trips to the end zone — a 5-yard run from quarterback Xavione Washington and a 4-yard run from running back KJ Covington after the Crusaders blocked a punt of their own.
Jesuit didn’t trail for long. On the second play of the Tigers' next drive, Pesansky hit receiver Junior Vandeross with a 70-yard touchdown pass.
“It wasn’t real pretty, and these games never are. I think we were favored … but you throw that out the window,” Thompson said about the back-and-forth first half that finished tied at 14. “In the eight years I’ve coached in it, records don’t matter. Everybody’s going to play hard, and it’s going to be a hell of a game.”
After halftime, the Tigers quickly put to rest the Crusaders' streak-snapping dreams.
Jesuit had good field position throughout the second half, and the Tigers scored on back-to-back drives in the third quarter, culminated by a pair of 3-yard touchdown runs from running back Joquez Smith for a 28-14 lead.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Tampa Catholic fought back midway through the fourth quarter, capping a long drive with a 1-yard quarterback keeper from Washington.
But when Jesuit got the ball back, the Tigers worked efficiently to increase their lead. Pesansky completed two long passes for first downs, setting up his own 5-yard touchdown run to essentially seal the Tigers' 21st straight victory against the Crusaders.
Despite the win, Pesansky said the rivalry didn’t quite live up to the hype. The pandemic, he said, was likely to blame.
“But each team playing as hard as they could?” he said. “That definitely held true.”