TAMPA — For the third week in a row, Jesuit held an early 21-point lead and then followed with a similar set of scenarios.
They let their opponent back in the game, this time against previously undefeated Tampa Bay Tech. Then the Tigers held on for victory, this time 35-28.
“It’s been tough and we’ll have a coaches meeting (Saturday) and we’ll get this panned out,” Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said. “But we are going against good teams. It wasn’t like any of the three teams the last three weeks weren’t good.
“(Fort Myers) Bishop Verot was undefeated (before Jesuit won 36-29 on a last-second touchdown) and Gaither was a very tough team (before losing to the Tigers 36-35 in overtime). Good teams are going to find a way to claw back against you. Fortunately we’ve found ways to get it done each time.”
On Friday, the Tigers (6-2) jumped out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter on some efficient passing by sophomore Will Griffin and the hard running of junior Justin Thurman, who finished with three touchdowns.
But Tampa Bay Tech (8-1) didn’t back off, despite a couple of early lost fumbles.
Titans junior quarterback Xzavier Jackson (22-of-35, 295 yards, three touchdowns) kept firing to his two favorite receivers, junior Dallas Wilson (nine catches, 130 yards, TD) and senior Javion McCay (10 catches, 126 yards), while senior Rod Gainey applied pressure on the ground (seven rushes, 115 yards).
Early in the second half, Tech had cut the gap to 21-14 with the ball before giving away one of its three lost fumbles.
“I don’t know why we’re letting teams come back, but I will take a lot of the blame for it,” said Griffin, who while finishing with 21 completions for 278 yards and a touchdown also threw an interception and lost a fumble. “It’s my job to make sure we keep the pedal to the metal and that goes for the whole team. I need to make sure we don’t ever let off the pressure no matter what our lead might be.”
Jesuit, which lost another fumble on its 1-yard line on a muffed punt reception, held a 28-21 lead heading into the fourth quarter and then pushed it to 35-21 on a 40-yard touchdown pass to senior Willy Suarez.
Tech scored its final touchdown with 1:33 remaining on a 1-yard, fourth-down pass to McCay.
The Tigers recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock with a first-down run by Griffin, who also finished with 48 yards rushing.
“We do need to get some things in order, but we also have to remember we are playing one of the toughest schedules in the state,” Thompson said. “Playing tough teams every week like this makes you understand where you are deficient and what we need to work on. This is only making us better.”