CLEARWATER — Friday night’s game between Clearwater Central Catholic and nationally-ranked Jesuit sure lived up to the hype — especially in the first half in front of a raucous crowd.
The Tigers, ranked No. 3 in the state and 14th in the country by MaxPreps, earned their sixth straight win, 35-21. Jesuit has now posted three consecutive victories over Clearwater Central Catholic in the yearly matchup.
It wasn’t easy in the early going as both teams missed 40-plus-yard field goals in a scoreless opening quarter.
The Tigers used a 33-yard grab by senior Toledo commit Junior Vandeross right before the end of the first quarter to generate momentum.
Two plays later, senior wideout Jaydn Girard took a jet sweep 39 yards down to the goal line. Then junior running back Joquez Smith punched in the game’s first score on a 3-yard run.
The Marauders (4-2), however, answered with a long drive of their own as junior back Lenwood Sapp scored on a nifty 14-yard run down midfield.
Tied at 7-7 at the break, Clearwater Central Catholic was inside Jesuit territory after just three plays of the third quarter. The next throw was picked off by senior cornerback Giscard Donatien, who jumped the route and took it back for 55 yards and a score.
“The pick-six gave us a lot of momentum. The offensive line just came out in the third quarter. I don’t know what it was,” Smith said. “I don’t if it was that Gatorade, but they were pushing it. I had to do what I do best.”
The Tigers took a 28-7 lead into the fourth quarter on a 10-yard touchdown strike from sophomore quarterback Luke Knight to senior wide receiver Carter French.
At the forefront of the Jesuit offense was Smith, who compiled 150 rushing yards and three touchdown runs.
He scored his second touchdown with just over four minutes left in the game on a lengthy drive. The scoring run was from 2 yards out.
With the game in hand, he scored less than a minute later on a 48-yard run where he went untouched.
Clearwater Central Catholic added points prior to Smith’s third touchdown on a 99-yard kick return touchdown from senior athlete London Hall.
The Marauders also recorded another score with only 17 seconds left for the final margin as sophomore wide receiver Andy Jaffe took a middle route all the way in for a 27-yard touchdown.
Jesuit’s defense caused havoc all night, totaling five sacks. Senior linebacker Wayne Quinn led the way with 2.5 sacks while senior defensive end Peter Pesansky had 1.5 sacks.
“This season means a lot to me but for the seniors, I love all of them,” Smith said. “Jesuit has been (tough) like this but it took us to beat St. Thomas Aquinas for everyone to recognize. We just have to stay humble and stay healthy.”
Jesuit’s final four games include a road tilt next week at Jefferson, then home matchups against Blake, King and rival Tampa Catholic.