Some may have entered Thursday night expecting a blowout win from start to finish for No. 6 Jesuit against No. 11 Shaw in the opening round of the Division I playoffs at Tad Gormley Stadium.
It was anything but a rout through the first three quarters, though, as the Eagles hung around trailing 17-0 going into the fourth, but a superior Blue Jays squad pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 33-0 victory advancing to the quarterfinals in Division I.
Jesuit will take on a rested No. 3 John Curtis team, and they’ll be hoping to put together a similar defensive performance to Thursday night’s effort.
The Blue Jays allowed just 19 yards in the game with 10 tackles for loss and one sack while four different players combined for five interceptions in a lockdown performance.
“It felt good just to come in, shut them down and get ready for next week,” said Jesuit senior safety Jack Stuke, who had one of the Blue Jay’s five interceptions. “I think we were just clicking and working together (as a defense). We played as one unit and everybody did well.”
Jesuit’s (7-4) combination of takeaways, minimal yardage allowed and short Shaw (3-8) punts gave the Blue Jay offense superb field position for much of the night, particularly in the first half.
The No. 6 seed started six of their seven drives at Shaw’s 41-yard line or better in the first two quarters, but only managed to score one touchdown and one field goal. A young Shaw defense came to play early on coming up with two big goal line stops on back-to-back possessions of the first quarter as the two teams went into the second quarter still locked at 0-0.
“We hung in with them,” began Shaw coach Tommy Connors, who just concluded his third season as the Eagles’ head coach. “But we turned the ball over, we had penalties and we were very bad on punts, so we couldn’t flip the field which hurt us.”
Jesuit’s two scoring drives in the first half covered just 14 and 31 yards as freshman Aidan Corbello connected on a 26-yard field goal before the Blue Jays scored their first touchdown on a 31-yard completion from senior Grant Jordan to junior receiver Luke LaForge with 7:57 to go in the first half.
The Catholic League’s fourth-place team looked more like itself coming out of halftime, though, marching 73 yards in just four plays to extend its lead to 17-0.
Jordan found LaForge for a 20-yard pickup on the first play of the half, then Jordan broke free himself for a 48-yard pickup down to the 3-yard line. Junior running back Jalen Williams did the rest scoring on the next play for Jesuit’s first score of the half just 1 minute and 20 seconds into the third quarter.
Jordan said the play of the defense really sparked the Blue Jays’ effort to start the second half.
“They did a great job and gave us great field position to put some points on the board when we were struggling,” said the senior quarterback, who accounted for 233 yards passing and rushing with two touchdowns. “It’s great seeing them do well because that just fires me up personally and the offense as well when we see a big hit or an interception that puts us on the 30-yard line and we know we have a great chance to score.”
“We went into halftime knowing we had to pick it up,” added senior running back Rader Jackson, who led the Blue Jays in rushing with 83 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. “The coaches had a good gameplan and we came out in the second half and just got it rolling.”
The Blue Jays looked like they were ready to ready to begin putting the game away on their second drive of the half when Jordan found LaForge again for a big 32-yard gain, but the Blue Jays actually needed 34. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound pass-catcher found a ton of room over the middle of the Eagles’ defense, but Shaw sophomore defensive back Mike Newton tracked him down inside the 5-yard line punching the football out at the last second as it rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
That helped keep the score at 17-0 Jesuit going into the fourth, but it only served to delay the inevitable as Corbello put another field goal on the board early in the period before 62 and 29-yard touchdown drives wrapped up the win for the Blue Jays.
In spite of its slow start, the Jesuit offense still racked up 444 yards of offense with 248 of those coming on the ground. They popped free for seven different runs ranging from 14 to 48 yards, and had five plays through the air that covered anywhere from 20 to 32 yards.
While the Blue Jays seemed to correct their issues at halftime totaling 291 yards in the last two quarters, coach Mark Songy was still more concerned with what limited the Catholic League’s second-best passing team through the first two periods.
“They gave us some trouble in the first half and we definitely weren’t clicking offensively,” Songy said. “We played really well on defense and on special teams, but we’ve got to get some answers to some of the problems that (Shaw) gave us.”
Jesuit kept its season alive at least one more week with the win while it was the end of the road for Shaw. The Eagles’ three-win mark this season was one better than last year, and their 3-8 finish was the best record for the 2020 senior class.
While they certainly had a rough four years, Connors believes this year’s seniors have laid the foundation for a young, talented group that has been able to follow their lead.
“They battled through a 1-9 season as freshman, 0-10 as sophomores, 2-8 as juniors, 3-7 as seniors, and they never missed a day and showed up and worked hard,” Connors began.
“They helped the younger guys as much as they possibly could so we’d continue to get better. I think that takes a lot of courage and a lot of toughness. Because of that, I know that I can send them off and every single one of them is going to have a bright future. Nothing can knock them down and keep them down, and we all know that’s a big part of life.”
“I wish them well,” Connors concluded. “And I hope they come back and visit.”
Shaw: 19 yards of total offense (6 rushing, 13 passing)
Jesuit: 444 yards of total offense (248 rushing, 196 passing)
Rushing: Clint Langford Jr., 5-8; Isaiah Barnes, 9-7; Angelo Dolce, 2-2; Rayon McGrew, 4-(-1); Tyler Nichol, 5-(-10) [includes 13-yard loss on 1 sack].
Receiving: Michael Williams, 3-9; Karl Davis, 1-8; Rayon McGrew, 1-3; Jace Weileman, 2-0; Isaiah Barnes, 3-(-7).
Passing: Tyler Nichol, 8-26, 19 yards, 0 TDs, 5 INTs; Isaiah Barnes, 2/2, minus-6 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs.
Rushing: Rader Jackson, 15-83, 1 TD; Grant Jordan, 6-73 (includes 8-yard loss on 1 sack/carry); Jalen Williams, 13-59; Jack Larriviere, 8-33.
Receiving: Luke LaForge, 6-98, 1 TD; Luke Besh, 3-41, 1 TD; Grant Moreau, 3-41; Jack Larriviere, 1-9; Presten Berggren, 1-7.
Passing: Grant Jordan, 12-26, 160 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; Jack Larriviere, 2-2, 36 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs.
Jesuit — Aidan Corbello 26 field goal, 10:33, 0-3.
Jesuit — Luke LaForge 31 pass from Grant Jordan (Corbello kick), 7:57, 0-10.
Jesuit — Jalen Williams 3 run (Corbello kick), 10:40, 0-17.
Jesuit — Corbello 24 field goal, 9:12, 0-20.
Jesuit — Luke Besh 21 pass from Jordan (Corbello kick), 5:23, 0-27.
Jesuit — Rader Jackson 1 run (kick failed), 2:40, 0-33.
NEXT UP: Jesuit moves on to face No. 3 John Curtis next week in the Division I quarterfinals. The Patriots will be the home team in a game that will be played on either Thursday or Friday, likely at Yulman Stadium.