No. 4 Jesuit sneaks past Tigard 23-22, into …

No. 4 Jesuit sneaks past Tigard 23-22, into semifinals

Quarterback Will Spitznagel dives for a one-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left to cap the Crusaders’ fourth-quarter rally
by Jerry Ulmer, OSAAtoday

Quarterback Will Spitznagel and Jesuit overcame a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter Friday. (Photo by Ralph Greene)
Quarterback Will Spitznagel and Jesuit overcame a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter Friday. (Photo by Ralph Greene)
Jesuit’s football season came down to one dramatic moment Friday night in a 6A quarterfinal against visiting Tigard.

Staring down elimination — facing fourth-and-goal from the half-yard line with 22 seconds left — the Crusaders weren’t going to overthink it.

Senior quarterback Will Spitznagel followed a block by senior center Seth Monahan to power into the end zone, giving Jesuit a 23-22 win over the Tigers. The play capped a comeback from a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit for the fourth-seeded Crusaders, who advance to the semifinals to play No. 1 Lake Oswego (11-1).

“If we could get it down to the 1, we knew that our center – the best center in the state – that he could get me a small lane, then I could dive in for it,” Spitznagel said. “He got me a lane and I just kind of went from there.”

Jesuit coach Ken Potter said he left the decision up to Spitznagel, a third-year starter.

“We just talked about looking where the gap was,” Potter said. “If there was a gap there for him to quarterback sneak, then take the gap. If there was no gap, then audible. We kind of put it in our quarterback’s hands to say, ‘It’s a yard to go, figure out a way to get it done.’”

The touchdown happened after Tigard appeared to stop a Jesuit running play on fourth down, but was flagged for lining up offside, moving the ball from the 1 to the half-yard line.

The Crusaders trailed 22-10 early in the fourth quarter and were on their heels against the fifth-seeded Tigers (10-2), but made a series of key plays down the stretch to emerge with the win. After losing in the quarterfinals the last two years, the win was extra sweet for Jesuit, which now gets a crack at the top-seeded Lakers, the only team to beat the Crusaders this season (20-14 in Week 2).

“It definitely means a lot to do this for the guys that lost in the last couple years, the seniors,” Spitznagel said. “Just kind of the tradition, Jesuit football, going deep in the playoffs, trying to make something happen. That’s what we did tonight.”

The Crusaders, who rallied from a 15-point deficit in the second half to win at Sheldon this season, did not fold despite Tigard taking control of the game in the third quarter.

“I knew our team had come back from adversity once, and if we’ve done it once, we can definitely do it again,” Jesuit junior running back Ted Atkinson said. “There was definitely doubt, but it never overcame us. We just kept our heads up and knew we could pull this game off.”

It was a crushing defeat for Tigard, which had the Crusaders on the ropes but couldn’t finish them. The Tigers have made the semifinals five times since 2012 — including last year, when they lost to Clackamas — but came up short this time.

“We had some opportunities to put the game away offensively, and we missed a few plays here and there,” Tigers coach Craig Ruecker said. “Even when it seemed like we would have them stopped, there was an unfortunate penalty that kept their drives going, numerous times. Jesuit in the fourth quarter made the plays, and we tip our hat to them.”

The game’s drama was reminiscent of when the teams met in a 2014 quarterfinal, won by Tigard 42-41 in three overtimes.

Leading 13-10 at half, Tigard got a 23-yard field goal from junior Jackson Cleaver and a four-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Drew Carter to junior Cole Scott to open a 22-10 lead midway through the third quarter.

The Tigers had two more chances to build on that lead after driving into Jesuit territory, but came up empty, leaving the door open for the Crusaders.

“We were hoping to get that last TD, and go up by three scores,” Tigard junior receiver and cornerback Max Lenzy said. “That would’ve been key, but we couldn’t.”

Jesuit took advantage, driving 64 yards to pull within 22-17 on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Spitznagel to senior Josh Daul with 7:01 left in the game. The score happened on fourth down after the Tigers had forced three consecutive incomplete passes.

Two minutes later, the Crusaders got the ball back at their own 41 and began their winning drive.

Facing third-and-15, Spitznagel scrambled for 20 yards to the Tigard 20. On third-and-8 at the 18, Lenzy was called for pass interference in the end zone, giving Jesuit a first down at the 9. Four rushes later, Spitznagel found the end zone with 19 seconds remaining.

“They just outworked us at the end,” said Lenzy, who had three interceptions. “They wanted it, and it was pretty much them outworking us.”

Atkinson, who led Jesuit in rushing with 58 yards on 14 carries, said he “almost had tears of joy” after seeing Spitznagel score.

“We kept our heads up and we knew we could get it done, and we never backed off from that,” Atkinson said.

The Crusaders have proven to be resilient this season.

“It’s the same thing they’ve done all year,” Potter said. “The character of the team is that they just never quit. That was a phenomenal team we just played, and they play hard all the way to the end. And we got lucky enough to get a win. I’m just proud of their tenacity.”

Tigard took a 13-0 lead in the first quarter on a nine-yard pass from Carter to senior Fletcher Ahl and a 20-yard run by senior Malcolm Stockdale. Cleaver’s second extra-point attempt sailed wide, however, a point that would come back to haunt the Tigers, who failed to compensate for it on a two-point pass try after their second-half touchdown.

Jesuit closed within 13-10 in the second quarter as senior Brian Coen kicked a 23-yard field goal and Spitznagel threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Daul.

The Crusaders finished with a 298-283 edge in total yards. Jesuit rushed for 115 yards, well off its 300.0 average. Spitznagel completed 13 of 22 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns, both to Daul, who had four catches for 84 yards.

Tigard’s Stockdale had 21 carries for 95 yards and one touchdown, giving him 2,074 yards and 36 touchdowns for the season. Carter went 10 of 25 for 160 yards and two scores.

Jesuit senior Gary Hollands had two interceptions, the first one setting up Coen’s field goal and the second one on the game’s final play, a wide receiver pass by Lenzy.

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