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Jesuit focused on finishing the job

Crusader football zeroing in on return to 6A championship


Photo Credit: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Jesuit senior running back Chase Morrison and junior Jason Talley make up a Crusader backfield thats sure to tote the rock early and often this season.

One quarter.

Twelve aching minutes.

That’s all that separated Jesuit from winning its first football championship in six years last season.

A turnover here. A missed tackle there.

Tied 28-28 with Central Catholic in the fourth quarter of the 2013 6A state championship game, the Crusaders were a pair of game-titling instances away from dumping icy Gatorade all over head coach Ken Potter on that frigid December day at Jeld-Wen Field.

The classic contest — chalked full of memorable plays, mammoth drives and striking displays of athletic prowess — went the way of the Rams, who leaned on their experience in crunch time to come up clutch in the fourth for a 38-28 win.

The lasting impact of that grisly defeat on this year’s 2014 group of returners has been tangible as Jesuit tries to turn the page on a new season and mount up for a vengeful showdown with the Rams on Sept. 5 at Hillsboro Stadium.

The incumbents who stood on the sideline with tears in their eyes in the waning seconds of the title game can recall that sullen sensation almost instantly. The red and gold streamers that flew from the stands down onto the celebrating Rams. The Central Catholic stars posing with the trophy Jesuit worked so hard to obtain. Those images have all resonated with this season’s Crusader squad. And, they’re vowing never to let that sinking feeling haunt them again.

“I think we’re going to go back (to the state title) and definitely take it this year,” said Talley. “Last year helped us have that right mindset going into this season. The championship game was the biggest of the big. That definitely prepared us for anything we’re going to go up against. Last year...it just wasn’t our day. We’re still big this year, but we’re a lot faster as well.

“We need to go back to the ‘ship, and we need to take it,” said junior defensive back Zach Houlemard. “We had an opportunity last year, but this year we need to take it all the way.”

“Our expectations are the same as they are every year, to play in 14 games,” said junior linebacker Mike Petroff. “To get that 14th game (the state title) is always the higher goal, but we want to win every game play and beat every opponent we face.”

Throughout the preseason, there have been whispers amongst the Metro ranks that Jesuit is a year away from being truly dominant again, and if there was a year to knock the Crusaders from the conference’s catbird’s seat, it’s 2014. Nearly each of the league’s upstarts believes it has at least a puncher’s chance of jettisoning Jesuit. Groundless speculation, however, falls on deaf ears with Jesuit.

“We’ve never changed anything,” said Talley. “No team has ever made us not be ourselves. No one should change us or who we are. Everyone on our team just goes and plays football. They’re hesitant because we’re prepared and ready to play. Every team that tries to knock us off is just a normal team. Even the championship is just a normal game to us. Obviously, there are rewards that come with it, but really it’s just playing a better team.”

The Crusaders have the most returning talent in Metro, beginning with a loaded backfield that toggles between the powering Talley and senior running back Chase Morrison, who ran for more than 2,000 yards last season. Junior quarterback Eric Restic returns after a breakout sophomore season at the helm, and he’s surrounded by a group of swift skill guys such as Tanner Tropio, the fastest 100-meter runner in Metro. Mix in an offensive line that brings back first-team, all-state left tackle Nick Miller and right guard Pau Vickers and suddenly those projections of Jesuit getting overthrown from atop the league standings don’t seem so stable.

Not that Jesuit cares about what others are prognosticating.

“From our perspective, we’re just going each week and trying to get a win,” said Petroff. “The most important game is the next one. Obviously, we lost state last year, so it’ll be fun to get another run at (Central Catholic). I think we’ll just have the same mentality we had last year against them: try to work hard and work as a team.”

Photo Credit: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Jesuit junior cornerback Donovan Baldocchi broke out last year as a sophomore and is one of a handful of defensive backs returning for the Crusaders.

Though each opponent comes at them like it’s a state title bout and pulls out all the stops to land a knockout blow on the champs, the Crusaders refuse to waver in their business-like approach to football. Jesuit’s consistently supreme every year because it sticks to a core set of principles and it views every opponent as faceless.

“We just take it game by game,” said Talley. “Whatever game is next, that’s our most important game. It’s Central Catholic first, then whoever is next, and hopefully, we get to 14 games by the end for the season. We never overhype one game or one team.”

Jesuit’s junior class, headed by Talley, Houlemard, Petroff, Restic Jordan Happle, Donovan Baldocchi and Nathanael Heaukulani were thrown into the fire as sophomores a season ago, and asked to provide stability and productivity, particularly on defense, sans Restic who grabbed the reins at quarterback.

Yet, as the season ramped up from Metro play to the postseason, those then-sophomores began to shine brightly as playmakers, displaying a penchant for playing big in crucial moments and surrounding seniors such as Henry Mondeaux and Joey Alfieri with order on defense.

“We like to compete,” said Petroff. “We like to work as a team. We’re going to go out to practice, do our best and let (Potter) put us in our spots and do what we can to get the win. We had a lot of role models in the last class, a lot of guys that I looked up to personally. Hopefully, we can carry on what they started.”

Happle led Metro in interceptions last season at cornerback, and Houlemard and Baldocchi both got their hands on the pigskin a number of times against the likes of Sunset’s Willy Pflug and Beaverton’s Sam Noyer. Heaukulani filled in admirably for Alfieri at linebacker after the Stanford signee went down with a torn meniscus, and Talley was fed more carries as the season advanced, providing a stable backup to Morrison in the backfield.

With 14 games of experience to depend on, including five high-intensity playoff games that none of its Metro peers can replicate, Jesuit’s junior class — along with Vickers, Morrison and Miller — thinks it can be the foundation of a triumphant upcoming season.

“Personally, I think we’re the best class in the state right now,” said Talley. “Especially in 2016, I don’t think anyone can compete with us. We have people on every side of the ball. Even when we came in freshmen year I had a hunch that our class would contribute right away.”

“We have a lot of athletic, big guys,” added Houlemard. “We also have speed, quickness, good agility, good hand-eye coordination, and we can do a lot on the field. We can also play multiple positions.”



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