TAMPA — When Wayne Quin was told that he hadn’t been born yet the last time Jesuit played for a state football championship, a big grin appeared.
Quin and the nationally ranked Tigers had plenty to smile about Friday night, blasting seven-time state champion Miami Northwestern 37-12 to earn their first state title appearance since 1992.
Jesuit (14-0), ranked 12th nationally by MaxPreps and the No. 1 seed in Class 6A, faces Pensacola Pine Forest for the championship. The Tigers, who were beaten 29 years ago by Pasco in the 3A finale, go for their second state crown in school history (the first came in 1968).
“It feels incredible,” ninth-year coach Matt Thompson said. “I got the job here and (the administration) knew what my vision was.
“I never had a head job before. I wanted to be in the same conversation as St. Thomas Aquinas, Jacksonville Bolles and all the other private schools around. I told them that we can do it here, because we have the resources, the support, and all the things we need to win here.”
Quin played against Northwestern two years ago in a 42-21 defeat in a 5A state semifinal at Miami — one of five losses at that level by Jesuit since 2015. All five teams that beat the Tigers — Plantation-American Heritage (twice), Northwestern, Orlando Bishop Moore and Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons — won state titles in their ensuing games.
“This has been our fate for two years when we lost to (Northwestern) at their house,” said Quin, a senior linebacker. “Everyone thought they could count us out again, but we proved them wrong. I’m just really proud of our guys and what our defense did.”
Jesuit led from start to finish against Northwestern (10-4), which had scored 177 points in three previous playoff games. Quin had a fumble recovery and two sacks in the first half as the Tigers built a 17-6 lead on a pair of touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback Luke Knight (22 yards to junior Jarriett Buie Jr. and 14 yards to senior Liam Conroy) and a 24-yard field goal by junior Jack Ferreri.
Junior running back Joquez Smith took over in the second half, rushing for 209 of his 240 yards and three touchdowns (58, 5 and 28) on 25 carries.
Quin got plenty of help from his defense. Junior linebacker Troy Bowles added an interception and two sacks in the second half as Jesuit held Northwestern’s potent offense to 1-of-8 on third downs and 1-of-3 on fourth downs.
Bowles was able to start after Jesuit won an appeal from the Florida High School Athletic Association. In last week’s 42-0 victory against Hillsborough, game officials reported that Bowles threw a punch — an infraction that carries a three-game suspension. But the school appealed and learned Tuesday that Bowles had been cleared to play.
Thompson said the game film showed Bowles was using an open hand in trying to work a technique — not throwing a punch. He said Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia also agreed and sent Thompson an email to support Jesuit’s case.
In the 2019 meeting, Northwestern used a 28-point second quarter to erase an early 7-0 Jesuit lead. Not this time.
“We watched that film from two years ago (and) a lot of guys that are seniors now were playing in that game,” Thompson said. “It was the first thing we did on Monday. We showed how bad we were in that game, and how we’re not that team ... we’re so much better.
“We built confidence all week (and) had an incredible game plan.”
At Gene Cox Stadium, Tallahassee
3A: Berkeley Prep vs. Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna, 7 p.m. Dec. 10
At DRV PNK Stadium, Fort Lauderdale
7A: Tampa Bay Tech vs. Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, 7 p.m. Dec. 17
6A: Jesuit vs. Pensacola Pine Forest, 7 p.m. Dec. 18