Jesuit quarterback Luke Knight ’24 gathered the shotgun snap with just a few seconds to go Friday night (Sept. 3) against perennial national power Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, and he looked up.
Knight saw two things – two very positive developments: 1. the Tigers’ offensive line had forged a gaping passing lane for Knight to throw through, and 2. a streaking Jaydn Girard ’22 was open and racing into the end zone.
With the massive Blue Tide student section having abandoned the Corral Memorial Stadium bleachers and dashed down along the fence of the south end zone to exhort their classmates to victory, Knight delivered the 10-yard strike, Girard cradled it for the touchdown, and pandemonium ensued.
With 9 seconds to go, Jesuit had just taken a 24-21 lead over St. Thomas Aquinas, the nation’s No. 6-ranked team by MaxPreps and back-to-back Class 7A State Champions. Moments later, after a wayward Hail Mary heave, it was final:
St. Thomas Aquinas 21
The Tigers had just notched the biggest regular season victory in school history – STA’s 12 State titles are the most in Florida prep history – in a game that wasn’t even on the schedule 48 hours earlier.
On Wednesday, both Jesuit and STA learned their respective opponents for Friday had cancelled due to COVID-19. A few phone calls later, desperately seeking an opponent on extremely short notice, STA and Jesuit found each other. The game was agreed to in principle on Wednesday night and finalized Thursday morning. Friday, STA boarded a couple of buses and drove to Tampa. Game on.
With the Tigers ranked No. 55 nationally by MaxPreps at the time (Jesuit is now ranked No. 20), and STA ranked No. 6 and coming off a Top 10 win over St. Frances Academy of Baltimore, it was an enticing matchup that caused instantaneous excitement.
There were stellar performances throughout the game. The Jesuit defense forced an incredible six turnovers, with a Hayes Greep ’22 interception on the first series setting the tone (Troy Bowles '23 and Kevin Doherty '23 also had interceptions). The massive STA offensive line met its match in the active Jesuit defensive front let by Peter Pesansky ’24 and Omarion Clark ’22.
On offense, the Jesuit line, anchored by Tre’Quan Alexander ’22, cracked open holes for tailback Joquez Smith ’23, who pounded through en route to 172 rushing yards and a TD on 21 carries.
The play of the game (at least until the final TD) came in the waning moments of the first half. A.J. Cottrill ’22, Jesuit’s All-State linebacker, popped the ball loose from an STA runner, grabbed it out of the air, and rumbled 30 yards for the touchdown with just eight seconds remaining until halftime. The successful PAT - kicker Jack Ferreri '23 made all of his attempts Friday - sent the Tigers to the locker room up 17-14 and with momentum in front of a fired-up throng of Jesuit supporters.
The Tigers, led by 9th-year head coach Matt Thompson, are right back in action against elite competition this Friday (Sept. 10), hosting formidable Bloomingdale. The Bulls were 12-1 last season, defeating Armwood twice and losing only to St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Region Final.
Go to the Facebook page Jesuit High School of Tampa to view photos from the Jesuit-St. Thomas Aquinas game. To watch a replay of the livestream, go to the Facebook page Jesuit High School Football - Tampa.