Unbeaten Jesuit cruises into region final

TAMPA — One streak ended. Another one remained intact Friday night as nationally-ranked Jesuit hit Bradenton Braden River with back-to-back 21-point quarters in the first half en route to a 49-9 victory in a Class 6A, Region 3 semifinal.

The undefeated Tigers, who have 12 consecutive wins, continue their pursuit of the school’s second state championship (the only one came in 1968) next week against Hillsborough.

Jesuit entered with a MaxPreps No. 13 national ranking as the region’s top seed. The Tigers left little doubt about being able to post their seventh region semifinal triumph in nine seasons under coach Matt Thompson. Led by senior Junior Vandeross’ four first-half touchdowns, Jesuit scored on six of its first seven possessions and held a 329-57 edge in offensive yards, including a 212-yard effort on the ground in the opening quarter alone.

Fifth-seeded Braden River (9-2), however, did snap Jesuit’s string of five consecutive shutouts when senior Colin Boyd booted a 40-yard field goal with 7:46 left in the opening quarter, capping a six-play, 18-yard drive set up by a 49-yard kickoff return from senior Nehemiah Jenkins. The Tigers had not allowed a point since the fourth quarter of a 35-21 win on Oct. 8 against Clearwater Central Catholic.

Jesuit has six shutouts this season, giving Thompson 24 during his tenure.

“These guys surprised me,” Thompson said. “Last week, I thought Boca Ciega was pretty good on film, and I didn’t think we were going to beat them by 50.

“This week, the offense was just clicking, and the defense settled in. (Braden River) had a couple formations in the beginning that threw us a little bit. But after we settled down, it was almost like practice. … it was really good.”

Vandeross, a Toledo commit, scored on his only two carries in the first half — a 65-yarder on the game’s third play that gave Jesuit the lead for good — and a 20-yard burst on the Tigers’ ensuing series. In the second quarter, Vandeross added two touchdowns on a 66-yard punt return and a 21-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Luke Knight.

It was the first time in Vandeross’ career that he has scored four times in a half.

“We had a great practice all week,” Vandeross said. “We just wanted to come out strong, fast and give our team a chance to play in the playoffs, because a lot of kids don’t get the opportunity. We play as a team (and) we play as a family.”

Senior running back Joquez Smith had a big first half as well with 141 yards rushing on 14 attempts, including an 11-yard touchdown. Jesuit’s other touchdown before intermission came on a 4-yard pass to senior Liam Conroy from Knight.

A blocked punt by senior Wayne Quin and an interception by senior Caleb Williams set up two of the Tigers’ touchdowns.

Junior Troy Bowles produced Jesuit’s only points in the second half with a 10-yard return of a fumble recovery. Braden River’s lone touchdown came on the game’s final play. A running clock was used after halftime.