Jesuit is back in the state soccer championship game.
It wasn’t easy, but these things usually aren’t.
After fighting back from a 2-0 deficit to claim a 4-3 victory at Dutchtown in the quarterfinals, the Blue Jays held off Northshore in a tough, physical defensive battle1-0 in a semifinal match Saturday night at John Ryan Field.
That put second-seeded Jesuit (22-0-5) in position to claim a second-straight Division I state title when it faces top-seeded St. Paul’s on Feb. 23 in Lafayette.
“We wanted to put ourselves in this position at the beginning of the year,” Blue Jays coach Hubie Collins said. “We’ve accomplished that and now we’ve got a week to focus on (St. Paul’s).
“I think both teams knew coming in that this was going to be a high-intensity, very skillful match. Both teams were leaving it all on the pitch tonight and we feel very fortunate and delighted that we came away the winners.”
The game was scoreless three-quarters of the way in before Blue Jays’ senior Ashton Perkins fielded a carom after a free kick and slipped the ball into the goal.
“Their defender headed it out and I saw the ball in the air,” Perkins said. “When it came down I touched with my right foot behind my leg and I finished it with my left leg.”
Blue Jays’ depth and defense, led by senior goalie Jacob Randolph, kept the third-seeded Panthers (17-3-3) at bay, though they kept attacking to the very end.
“There aren’t enough words (to describe Randolph’s performance),” Perkins said. “He has been fantastic all year. He plays every game like it’s his last. Some of his saves I don’t know how he does it, but I’m thankful that he does.”
But Northshore (17-3-3), featuring 16 seniors and making its first semifinals appearance since 1991, kept the pressure on. Mateo Villanueva’s shot on goal was just wide in the 75th minute, Randolph made two stops in the 77th minute and Braden Neal’s header just missed in the final seconds.
“We knew it would be a tough, close game,” Panthers coach Ryan Lazaroe said. “Jesuit is always a powerhouse when it comes to soccer. We fought well and that’s how we got here. What these kids did this season was fantastic. I’m proud of them and they should be proud as well.
“Jesuit made the most of their moment in goal. Sometimes the game can be cruel and it was cruel to us tonight.”
The first half was about as even as it could be, but Collins and Jenkins both said the Blue Jays’ depth ultimately made the difference, especially at Ryan Field, which is larger than most soccer fields and can be taxing on a team’s stamina.
“The game had ebbs and flows and there were certain periods where I thought they had the upper hand and there were certain periods where we had the upper hand,” Collins said. “I thought we had the deeper bench and could go a little bit deeper and maybe rest some players and I think eventually we were able wear them down.”
Now Perkins, Randolph and their fellow Jesuit seniors get a shot at another state championship.
“This is one of the best feelings I can have in high school,” Perkins said. “This is what we work for every day. To have another chance to win a state championship with these guys means everything.”
Collins had battled the flu for a couple of days, but he was all smiles after the match.
“I came down with a little bug,” he said, “but the adrenaline tonight pushed it all out and I feel great right now.”