Jesuit rematch looms in semis
When Jesuit and Lake Oswego met up early in the season, it was supposed to be a showdown between potentially two of the top three teams in the state.
By the game's end, the Lakers had left the Crusaders' defense badly exposed and seemed to establish the notion that there was a wide chasm between the top two teams in the state (Lake Oswego and Sheldon) and everyone else.
After falling behind 14-0 early, the Lakers went on to drub Jesuit, putting up 49 consecutive points in a 49-21 victory.
But, in that time, Jesuit's defense has improved tremendously and, despite losing the Metro League to Southridge this year, the Crusaders were still granted a No. 1 seed in the postseason and have lived up to it.
Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury knows that both teams are going to look very different than they did two months ago.
"I really don't think that game has anything to do with the one we're going to play. We've both gotten better. That's the one thing about (Jesuit) and it's a credit to their coaching staff is that they always get better," Coury said.
Jesuit is certainly battle tested this year, having played all three of the other remaining teams in the semifinals.
The Crusaders scored a narrow victory over Central Catholic and held their own in a 52-37 shootout loss to Sheldon in Week 2, giving the Irish their biggest test of the season to date.
In the playoffs, Jesuit has steamrolled through the Pacific Conference, picking up an easy win over McMinnville, then surviving a test against Tualatin before pounding previously unbeaten Tigard 35-7 in the quarterfinals.
The Crusaders make no effort to hide their intentions on offense. The team is keyed by its enormous offensive line which opens holes for tailback A.J. Glass and running quarterback Nicholas Rothstein.
Glass has ran for more than 2,000 yards this season and Rothstein has picked up nearly 1,000 on his own.
Against Lake Oswego, the Crusaders ran for nearly 400 yards but were one dimensional and committed four turnovers.
Turnovers have been a stumbling block for Jesuit this year as the team has had a penchant for putting the ball on the ground. Rothstein has also thrown 10 interceptions and just nine touchdown passes.
Lake Oswego's underrated defense has faced some of the state's top offensive lines this year and performed remarkably well against them but this semifinal match-up might be its biggest test of the season.
"That's the key to the game is to be able to slow them down and hang in with their huge offensive line and get the ball back," Coury said.
In the preseason, Jesuit made a concerted effort to stop Lake Oswego's running game, just one week after Steven Long put up a season's worth of yardage and touchdowns against Skyline.
The Crusaders did hold Long to his lowest rushing output of the season and kept him out of the end zone but Lake Oswego proceeded to torch them through the air with Alex Matthews throwing for 338 yards and six touchdowns, four of which went to Stevie Coury.
So Jesuit knows it has a difficult task knowing what to focus on defensively.
"Their offense is very diverse. They do a very good job of both running and passing. The last time we played them, we gave up way too many big plays. Cutting down on those, that's where it starts right there," Jesuit coach Ken Potter said.
And Lake Oswego won't try and alter its usual game plan for this contest either.
"At this point in the season you have to be able to run the ball so that's our initial thought. If they want to take that away from us we'll have to be able to throw it," Coury said.
No matter the outcome, Saturday's match-up will be another exciting chapter in what has become one of the state's best rivalries.