Tony Hull has had to listen all offseason to the naysayers reminding him how much his Warren Easton team lost from last year’s squad.
No more Deshawn Capers-Smith.
No more Tyron Johnson.
In the Eagles’ first test of the season, the defense picked up the slack as Easton beat Jesuit 26-21 in Thursday’s season opener at Tad Gormley Stadium.
“It’s huge,” Hull said. “To lose the state championship by one point last year and hear people saying we were a one-hit wonder and all the foolishness we heard, to come out here and beat the defending Division I state champions is a great moment for the Warren Easton family and alumni.”
The Eagles didn’t seal it until linebacker Pernell Jefferson and cornerback Charven Morris stuffed Jesuit quarterback Peter Hontas on fourth-and-1 at the Easton 20 with a minute left.
“We know the offense really needed us to make the play that we needed, and we made it,” said Jefferson, who is committed to Oklahoma.
The game pitted two teams that made it to the Superdome in storybook 2014 seasons. Jesuit won the Division I select state championship last season, its first state title since 1960. Easton fell in the Class 4A state championship game, making its first appearance in the title game since 1958.
The Eagles wasted little time showing it was ready to shake off that loss, plus the departure of 2014 Gatorade and Mr. Football winner Capers-Smith (now at Texas A&M) and Johnson (LSU).
They needed just 14 seconds to score the first touchdown of the season.
Damien Tate returned the opening kickoff 81 yards to give the Eagles a 7-0 lead.
Then on the Eagles’ first possession, Joseph Boyd capped a 51-yard drive with a 1-yard run to put Easton up 13-0.
But Jesuit got going in the second quarter, taking advantage of a short field to take the lead.
The first score came after a fumble by the Easton punter gave the Blue Jays the ball at the Eagles’ 23-yard line.
On Easton’s next possession, the Eagles decided to go for it on fourth-and-4 from their 42, but Tyriek Starks threw an incomplete pass.
Jesuit took advantage of the short field again, taking a 14-13 lead on Hontas’ 15-yard strike to Malachi Hull with 6:29 left in the half.
“Our defense won the game for us,” Hull said. “If we didn’t put our defense in a bind with our offense, they would have had to drive the length of the field. The defense stepped up.”
Easton regained the lead in a hurry, using just six plays. The big play on the drive was Starks’ fourth-down completion to Clyde Chriss. It put the Eagles at the 2, and freshman running back Dewitt Johnson scored on the next play.
Easton stretched the lead in the third on a touchdown run by Starks. Jesuit closed the gap on a pass from Hontas to Kalija Lipscomb.
Lispcomb finished with six catches for 88 yards, including a clutch catch late that gave Jesuit one last chance in the final minutes.
But Jefferson and Morris stuffed those chances, snapping Jesuit’s metro area-best six-game winning streak.
“That was a great football team we played,” Jesuit coach Mark Songy said. “We made enough mistakes for a year.
“We made a lot of little stupid mistakes. We need to grow up.”
Boyd led Easton with 99 yards on 19 carries, and Chriss finished with six catches for 106 yards.
Hontas, the son of former Roch Tulane quarterback Roch Hontas, completed 13 of 23 passes for 156 yards.
It was the first meeting between the schools since 2004 and Easton’s first victory over Jesuit since 1964.
“We feel like it was too close of a game and we have a lot to fix,” Jefferson said. “We feel like we still have a statement to make and we didn’t make it this game.”
Easton now leads the series 24-20-4.
“Today an Eagle is better than a Blue Jay,” Hull said.