LAFAYETTE — When Jesuit needed a big drive in the final minutes, the Blue Jays knew where to turn.
Charles Jackson and Chris Mills had provided the one-two punch all night, and they did again in the Jays’ most important drive of the season.
Their power running helped Jesuit go 80 yards in nine plays, and Hunter Robert went the final 5 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 1:42 left as the Blue Jays held off third-seeded St. Thomas More 20-13 in their Division I select quarterfinal contest at STM’s Cougar Stadium.
Jackson had four carries for 46 yards in the clutch march and Mills, had 25 yards on three carries as the Blue Jays got the last of their 225 rush yards at the most opportune time.
“We thought we’d be able to do that from the beginning,” said Jesuit coach Mark Songy. “But (STM) had something to say about that. That’s a heck of a defensive football team. We had opportunities, but a good football team will do what they did.”
Jesuit (11-2) advances to the Division I semifinals against the winner of Saturday’s Teurlings Catholic-Rummel game, while the Cougars (9-2) were left to lament their missed opportunities.
STM had the ball in Jesuit territory four times in the second half and only pushed across one score, that coming on Nathan Thevenot’s one-yard run with 9:09 left at the end of a 66-yard, 15-play march.
One drive later, the Cougars reached the Blue Jay 33 before being hit with a personal foul penalty that eventually forced a punt that set Jesuit up at its own 20 and set up the winning drive.
“We had chances, just couldn’t quite get it done,” said STM coach Jim Hightower. “We had a couple of fumbles when it looked like we were giving effort and trying to make yards, and we had some really costly penalties.”
The Cougars lost three fumbles, one coming after Jesuit had driven 86 yards in 12 plays for its first score, a four-yard Jackson run. A botched punt attempt gave the Blue Jays possession at the STM 24 before the defense stiffened and held on a fourth down pass attempt.
STM entered the game having scored 41 or more points in eight of 10 games this season, but it was the Cougar defense that stymied Jesuit three times in scoring position in the first half despite the Blue Jays rolling up 398 offensive yards.
“I was really proud of our defense,” Hightower said. “They played really hard and made a lot of big plays.”
It didn’t look that way early, as Jesuit quickly went 80 yards on six plays with the opening kickoff and reached the STM 12 before that defense stiffened and held on a fourth-down pass. But Jesuit forced a punt and marched 86 yards in 12 plays before Jackson scored on a four-yard sweep with 2:36 left in the first quarter.
Jackson finished with 120 rush yards and Mills had 89.
“All year long those two have gone hand in hand,” Songy said. “We don’t care which one of them is in there, it’s whoever’s going good. We felt like we could run on them, but their defense played much better as the game went along.”
After an exchange of interceptions, the Cougars got what looked like an equalizer just before halftime when quarterback William Bellamy hit Tiger Bech with a 30-yard strike over the middle. But a swinging-gate conversion attempt was stacked up, and a 30-yard Bailey Raborn field goal attempt at the halftime horn went wide to keep Jesuit ahead 7-6.
Bellamy finished with 269 pass yards on 23-of-40 passes, while Bech caught seven passes for 143 yards.
Another fumble stopped an STM drive with the second-half kickoff at the Blue Jay 25, and one exchange later the Jays made it 13-6 on Robert’s one-yard run. Crew Jacobs’ conversion was blocked, though, setting up STM for Thevenot’s tying score on its next drive.