By Andrew McCulloch
St. Thomas entered Tully Stadium on Saturday night with unparalleled momentum. Between a six-game regular season winning streak and a dominant recent victory over Rice Consolidated, the team was poised for the renewal of one of Houston’s oldest rivalries. Most importantly, the Eagles brought the momentum from last season’s monumental victory of Strake Jesuit that snapped a 14-year losing streak.
The advantage in momentum was abundantly clear early on, as the Eagles jumped out to a quick 11-0 lead after an eight-yard sophomore Michael Keating touchdown and a 26-yard junior Jack Brady field goal. The team took advantage of its early lead and put the pressure on the Crusaders.
After a Jesuit field goal, the Eagles responded with another touchdown on sophomore William Heck’s two-yard rush to take a 17-3 lead midway through the second quarter. The Eagle defense played smash mouth, stingy football for most of the first half, but allowed the Crusaders their first touchdown of the night as time expired on the first half.
Entering the second half, storm clouds brewed in the sky and on the sidelines and the impact was felt on the field. Both teams had rough and sloppy starts to the third quarter. Interceptions were exchanged through most of the third quarter, contributing to nine total turnovers between the Eagles and Crusaders.
But the scoring drought came to an end after Brady booted a 28-yard field goal and gave the Eagles a comfortable 20-10 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Another Heck rushing touchdown pushed the lead to 27-10 at the 11:38 mark of the final period. The defense led the way through the rest of the fourth quarter, shutting down the Crusader offense and forcing three turnovers.
The sides swapped touchdowns once more in the fourth, but the Eagles maintained their lead. But when the final buzzer sounded, St. Thomas was on top once again, defeating the archrival Crusaders by a score of 34-17.
The Eagle offense scrapped its way through this game, totaling only 387 total yards and a mere 61 passing yards. But the rushing attack proved to be an unstoppable force yet again this week, compiling a staggering 326 yards on the ground. Keating and senior Andre Pradia pounded the Jesuit defense for 63 and 81 yards respectively.
But the star of the night was clearly Heck. He carried the team with his astonishing 140 yards and three touchdowns. He set the tone for the offense and kept the Crusaders on their heels regularly with large gains on the ground.
The Eagle defense improved significantly from a shaky effort against Rice Consolidated, showing some resemblance to the 2012 unit. Senior Rawlings Elam bounced back from a rough outing last week with a phenomenal performance in the secondary, snagging two interceptions. Senior defensive end Joseph Lowery continued his stellar play and was a force in the backfield with a multitude of absolutely devastating hits. Senior Travis Williamson and sophomore Lorenzo Neal also both forced big turnovers that led to St. Thomas touchdowns.
With the victory, the Eagles took back control of the Strake rivalry for good. The win marks the first time since 1989 that St. Thomas has won consecutive games against Strake Jesuit.
The night was particularly special for St. Thomas seniors, who will end their career at St. Thomas undefeated against the Crusaders at the freshmen, junior varsity, and varsity levels.
But most importantly, in the 50th year of the St. Thomas-Strake Jesuit rivalry, the Eagles officially began a winning streak of their own.