TAMPA — Coming into this season’s rivalry matchup, Jesuit hadn’t lost a football game to Tampa Catholic in 21 seasons. Still, coach Matt Thompson admits he walked into Corral Memorial Stadium on Friday a little uneasy.
With the confidence of a 21-game winning streak comes the fear of being the ones to break it.
“It’s actually more nerve-wracking than anything,” said Thompson, who is in his ninth season as Jesuit’s head coach. “I can’t wait to get this game over with and get to the playoffs because, you know, anything can happen.”
It didn’t take long into Friday’s game for Thompson to breathe a little easier.
From the start, Jesuit’s defense set the tone, and the Tigers allowed Tampa Catholic just one first down in the opening half. Meanwhile, Junior Vandeross lit up Alumni Field, scoring a pair of touchdowns and totaling nearly 200 all-purpose yards to lead Jesuit to a 42-0 victory.
“It’s my senior year. It’s my last time playing them, so I wanted to go out with a bang. I wanted to win, obviously, play a good game and ball out,” said Vandeross, a University of Toledo commitment. “It’s always good to beat your rivals 22 years in a row.”
It was a scoreless game in the first quarter, but once Jesuit got on the board early in the second with a three-yard rushing touchdown from running back Joquez Smith, the Tigers were tough to stop.
Immediately following Smith’s score came a blocked punt returned for a touchdown by linebacker Troy Bowles, then Vandeross’ first trip to the end zone of the night — a 15-yard touchdown run set up by his own lengthy punt return to give Jesuit a 21-0 lead at halftime. Vandeross would score again in the second half on a 34-yard reception from quarterback Luke Knight.
Thompson said his defense was simply making up for lost time.
“Our guys haven’t played in a couple weeks, because we’ve been playing a lot of backups and stuff. They came out hungry,” he said. “They knew when we gave up 21 to St. Thomas Aquinas by mistakes that we made, they knew we were a lot better than that.”
Tampa Catholic’s lone first down before the break came on the final play of the half. They’d get just two more first downs after halftime, totaling 53 yards of offense on the night.
In addition to keeping the Crusaders (6-3, 0-2) from moving the ball, the Tiger defense found the end zone when cornerback Caleb Williams intercepted a pass on the second play of the second half, returning it 30 yards for a touchdown. Jesuit (10-0, 4-0) would also recover two fumbles in the second half, one of which set up Smith’s 1-yard rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Thompson might have been nervous about Friday’s outcome, but outside linebacker Wayne Quin had no doubt about how the game would go. And that, he said, was thanks to the Jesuit scout team, which gave the Tiger defense a challenge all week in practice.
“They ran (Tampa Catholic)’s offense for us, and they played it with heart, giving us a little shoulder. And if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have been prepared for this blowout,” said Quin, who made a fumble recovery and had a big sack to start the game. “I didn’t come in scared, I came in excited. I was just so happy to play these guys, keep the streak going.