The 2019 playoffs are upon us and a rematch between No. 6 Jesuit and No. 11 Shaw is first up on the docket Thursday at 6 p.m. at Tad Gormley Stadium in the first round of the Division I playoffs.
The two Catholic League foes have already met once this season with the Blue Jays (6-4) taking the meeting, 34-3, over the Eagles (3-7) in Week 8. We continue our weekly position-by-position breakdown of the top District 9-5A game below, and don’t forget to check out the Catholic League picks and capsules for all three of this week’s games including 9-5A teams.
Jesuit — Grant Jordan has been a breakout player in his first year as a starter as a senior for the Blue Jays. He finished the regular season as the league’s second-leading passer with 1,861 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions, but three of those came last week against the state’s best defense with Jesuit playing catch up. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder is also a legitimate threat with his legs as the team’s leading rushing and rushing touchdowns with 444 yards and 10 scores. The former number would also be significantly higher without sacks counting against his total, and he’s a player that can put the Blue Jays on his back when necessary.
Shaw — Senior Tyler Nichol is a multi-year starter for the Eagles who has thrown for 738 yards with eight touchdowns to six interceptions despite missing three games during the middle of the season. Shaw put a lot on Nichol’s shoulders early in the year in their fast-paced offense, and he delivered leading the Eagles to a 2-1 record including a game-winning touchdown against West Jefferson in Week 3.
It’s been tough to regain his rhythm from that point, though, as he’s thrown for just 326 yards over the last four games of the season, and 191 of those came on three long touchdown passes in Week 7 against Brother Martin cutting the score from 58-0 in the fourth quarter to 58-21. He likely could have added a good chunk of yardage last week against H.L. Bourgeois rather than the likes of Brother Martin, Jesuit and St. Aug, but he attempted just eight passes as the Eagles really had their run game going. One of those did go for a touchdown, though, to a guy we’ll get to later.
Jesuit — Jesuit has relied primarily on its passing game and mostly has running back-by-committee approach at the position. Senior Rader Jackson gets the majority of the carries and leads the group with 380 yards and two touchdowns on 122 totes. Junior Jalen Williams led the last week, however, with 12 carries for 41 yards, and the Blue Jays will also use junior Jordan Hughes on occasion.
Shaw — The Eagles have a young, but productive, talented duo in the backfield in sophomore Angelo Dolce and freshman Clint Langford Jr. Langford Jr. actually leads the team in rushing with 531 yards on 90 carries while Dolce, who brings more of a power component at the position, has 390 yards on 103 carries. Both have also rushed for four touchdowns, two of which came last week for Langford Jr. who led the team in rushing with 119 yards. Shaw will sometimes bring in senior Rayon McGrew for added depth as well.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Jesuit — Jesuit has two of the best receivers in the Catholic League in juniors Luke Besh and Luke LaForge. They’re big targets at 6-foot-1, 185 and 6-foot-2, 190, respectively, and both have extremely reliable hands in and out of traffic. The duo ranks third and fourth in the district with 50 catches for 630 yards with seven touchdowns and 48 catches for 595 yards with four touchdowns. Neither really has “breakaway” speed, but their physicality and athleticism makes them legitimate threats after the catch.
Shaw — Shaw has a trio of targets at the receiver position in freshman Michael Williams, sophomore Isaiah Barnes and senior Jace Weileman. Williams is a speedy target that leads the group with 26 receptions for 402 yards (6th in the league) with six touchdowns (5th in the league) including one last week against H.L. Bourgeois, and Weileman is second on the team with 10 catches for 122 yards with one score. Barnes rounds out the group with 14 receptions for 104 yards with a score and he also found a new role last week as Shaw’s Wildcat quarterback. The shifty sophomore rushed for 107 yards with a pair of scores to help lead the Eagles’ running game.
Jesuit — As detailed before, the Blue Jays are a big, physical group that represent one of Jesuit’s strongest units. They’re anchored by their two huge tackles in Brian Balestra on the right side and Max McMahon on the left. Balestra, a former Air Force commitment, checks in at 6-foot-4, 280 while McMahon is 6-foot-2, 260.
Shaw — As is the case with the rest of Shaw’s roster, this is a young group with just one senior in left tackle Josh Ballay. Junior right tackle Ethan Dickerson is the biggest of the bunch at 6-foot, 285 pounds and Marco Salazar is locked in at left guard spot. Sophomores Jheron Baptiste and Logan Higgerson round out the group at center and right guard.
Jesuit — As we’ve mentioned in previous position breakdowns, this is likely the strongest group on Jesuit’s entire team. They have four players that have at least three sacks led by 6-foot-6, 250-pound Ethan Branch’s six, and the most disruptive force of them all in UL commitment Sonny Hazard has five. Hazard is also third on the team in tackles with 64 while seniors Evan Taffaro and Paxton Dinwiddie both have three sacks with 37 and 30 takedowns.
Shaw — This group took a major hit with impact junior defensive lineman Baron Miles being lost for the season with an ACL injury about midway through the year, but they still have a couple of players to keep an eye out for. Sophomore Chad Gooden is actually listed as a linebacker, but the Eagles play an unconventional defense that routinely features just one down lineman with at least four other players at or near the line of scrimmage.
Gooden will usually be close to the center and he’s made plenty of plays this year for the Eagles totaling 33 tackles with 3.5 sacks. Jason Bush is also a sophomore to keep an eye out for up front with 31 tackles and 0.5 a sack.
Jesuit — This is an extremely productive group that is home to two of the top four tacklers in the Catholic League. Junior Max Jubenville leads 9-5A with 74 tackles including three for a loss with a fumble recovery while sophomore Dennis Dougherty is tied for fourth with 67 tackles including three for loss as well with two pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, and an interception that was returned for a touchdown. Senior Jimbo Hotard has also been active recording 44 takedowns on the season with a fumble recovery.
Shaw — One of the district’s top linebackers resides in this group in junior Ardell Reed. The 6-foot, 205-pounder is a physical player that can cover ground from sideline to sideline, and is a sure tackler when he meets ball carriers with 67 takedowns and five sacks.
Senior Roy Pate is also an impact player for the Eagles leading the team in sacks with seven while recording 45 tackles despite missing some time with injury this season. Sophomore Evan Weber has also made his fair share of plays totaling 47 tackles with three sacks.
Jesuit — The Blue Jay secondary is a solid group with a good duo of safeties in junior William Hawkins and senior Jack Stuke. Hawkins is the top tackler in the secondary with 49 plus four pass breakups while Stuke has 35. Both also have one interception and junior cornerback Vincent LoGiudice leads Jesuit in breakups with seven.
Shaw — Shaw’s back end includes two guys who have arguments as the team’s top defender along with Reed. Senior Dorian Lewis is an athlete that is worthy of a spot on a college roster, and he’s totaled 32 tackles with an interception after missing multiple games with injury.
Sophomore Mike Newton is one of the district’s up-and-coming top talents as an instinctive, physical player who finished second in the Catholic League in tackles with 70 as well as seven tackles for loss, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Apart from those two, junior Dawson Guidry has also dealt with injuries this season, but has totaled 24 tackles while leading the Eagles in interceptions with three.
Jesuit — Freshman Aidan Corbello handles the field goal kicking duties for Jesuit and he’s been consistent throughout most of the year. He’s made 21 of his 24 PATs and 6 of his 9 field goals with the longest coming from 41 yards out while the other five are all from 30 and closer. He doesn’t quite have the leg to get to the end zone on kickoffs leading Jesuit to try different strategies on their kickoff team. Besh and LoGiudice are the returners for the Blue Jays.
Shaw — Senior Dawson Donahue is the kicker for Shaw, and he’s made 20 of his 24 PATs and 3 of his 6 field goals with a long of 37. He can occasionally get the ball to the end zone on kickoffs with eight touchbacks, but teams usually have a chance at a return.
Lewis and Barnes are the primary punt and kick returners for Shaw, and both can be dangerous with Barnes averaging 24.2 yards per kick return including an 89-yarder for a touchdown.