After overpowering the Alvin Yellowjackets 44-14 last Friday night, Strake Jesuit heads into tonight's game against Alief Elsik just one win away from reaching the UIL Playoffs for the fourth year in a row. The Crusaders are coming off a couple of impressive performances on the ground. In the past two games, the halfback duo of Joel Crawford and Alex May have recorded eight total touchdowns, and last week, they both ran for over 100 yards.
While the rushing attack has been on fire for Jesuit, the passing game is featuring younger faces after the loss of Robert Smith due to a season-ending hand injury about a week ago. Starting quarterback Connor O'Hara will look to throw to a talented receiving corps in the junior class. The receiving group consists of Will Taylor (110 receiving yards, one TD vs. Alvin), Holden Maples, Leland Smith, and Thomas Jewett. It's safe to say that the Crusaders will continue to be in good hands next season after the current senior class graduates.
Nonetheless, Strake Jesuit is focused on clinching the last playoff spot in District 23-6A tonight at Crump Stadium. Faced with tougher teams in the district like Pearland, Dawson, and Shadow Creek at the start of the season, the Crusaders started out with a 1-3 district record. They would then go on to pick up two wins in a row against Alief Taylor and Alvin, outscoring those two opponents 79-31. A victory tonight for Klay Kubiak's Crusaders would finish their district play with a 4-3 record. Assuming this outcome occurs, the final district standings will end up with Jesuit in fourth place, one game ahead of Alief Hastings, whom they beat in the head-to-head matchup earlier this season.
Standout player and Harvard commit Jacob Psyk will lead Strake Jesuit on defense tonight. He has experienced the large atmosphere of the UIL 6A Playoffs in his past two seasons when the team went to the second round in 2018 and then the third round at NRG Stadium last year. Wanting to experience that exhilarating energy of the playoffs one last time, and make it further, is what will drive him to help his team gain a win over Elsik.
Alief Elsik is currently riding an 0-5 season record. Regardless of the ease that this game may present for Strake Jesuit, they will not hold anything back as this matchup will present great insight as to how the rest of their season will play out.
The Strake Jesuit Fighting Crusaders suffered a demoralizing 5-0 loss to the Alief Elsik Rams at home on Friday. Just 10 days before, Strake Jesuit had knocked off the number one team in the nation, Seven Lakes High School. It also kicked off its district schedule with a 1-0 win over Pearland Dawson. All seemed to be trending upwards for the Crusaders, but their momentum slowed down when they faced the ninth-ranked team in Texas, a former state champion and perennial national contender Alief Elsik.
The Rams struck with an early goal in the first 10 minutes. That chink in the Crusaders' armor quickly resulted in three more goals before the half.
"We tried to man guard their striker," said senior goalkeeper Buddy Williams. "That allowed the other wingers to drop behind our defense and receive quick passes through the defensive line."
Players were livid, and costly fouls and inopportune handballs fed Elsik two of those first half goals.
The second half did showcase some Crusaders' grit though. Passionate veterans were booked and thrown out of the game for their eagerness to erase the deficit. What constituted eagerness, one might ask? There were fouls galore because of shoving, grabbing, slamming, gnashing, yelling and spatting. Brian Johnson and Paxton Schulte were also valuable veteran assets lost to the passions of the game. Either team couldn't go a whole minute without a simple petty foul interrupting the flow of the game.
In fact, Elsik, a team that from assistant coach John Gardner's observations "prided itself on offensive chemistry and clinical passing", could hardly string together a fluent passing possession in the second half. The team played on its heels after Jesuit had turned its offense inside out. Sophomores and juniors were crossing the ball downfield ad nauseam to the Elsik defenders. The offense they must have studied on film, predicated with gradual passing, was chucked to the roadside for a more boom-or-bust attack. All this to say, Elsik was not attacking like their usual self. But, Rams' fans might argue, "Look at the score line. We didn't need anymore goals".
Assistant coach Gardner commented on the team's performance after the game and what it meant for the season.
"We came into the season with four returning varsity starters," he said. "So, we used our early non-conference games, some of which were in interstate tournaments, [to] sort of find our identity as a team. We came off the high of that Seven Lakes win and I think that showed us the maximum potential we had as a team. But, district is a different animal. Teams who play each other every year tend to learn each other's tendencies and formulate game plans to attack their weaknesses. Some plans pan out, others do not."
"When we beat Seven Lakes, we scored off an early corner kick and capitalized on a mistake during play," he continued. "That's how you beat those high powered teams [however simple that might sound]. With Elsik, they consistently have good team chemistry with their squads. When you give them chances, they capitalize on those opportunities and make you pay. Facing an early deficit kind of demoralized us. Once you slipped to the Rams, it was hard to bounce back for any team. But, what makes this game interesting is how the team responds to the game."
Remember, they still have potential. Conquering adversity through the regular season only helps a team with postseason aspirations.
The Fighting Crusaders drop to 4-4-2 and 1-1 in district play, while Elsik keeps its perfect 11-win season untouched. Jesuit travels to a 4-2-1 Alief Hastings next Wednesday, while Elsik hosts Pearland.