Jesuit overwhelms short-handed Largo in second half to advance to state semis

Jesuit running back Joquez Smith sprints free for a long touchdown run during a 31-0 playoff victory over Largo Friday night.

TAMPA — Largo put a scare into the Jesuit fans to start the second half on Friday night.

After holding the Tigers — the top seed in Class 3M, Region 2 — to a field goal at intermission, the second-seeded Packers threatened to take the lead with a time-consuming 7 1/2-minute drive to begin the third quarter.

That’s when Jesuit junior linebacker Drew Woodaz took the starch out of the Largo march. Woodaz intercepted a pass from junior quarterback Jeremy Thomas deep in Tiger territory, and his play ignited an offensive explosion as the Tigers went on to win 31-0.

Jesuit (9-4), which won the Class 6A state title in 2021, advances to the state semifinals. Tigers coach Matt Thompson, who took over the program 10 years ago, improved to 7-1 in region finals. Largo (9-3) hasn’t won a region crown since 2008, the second of back-to-back championships at that level.

Senior place-kicker Jack Ferreri’s 22-yard field goal with 25.1 seconds left in the second quarter was the only score before halftime. Largo, which played without four wide receivers and junior running back Malachi Peterson because of injuries, moved into potential scoring position to begin the third.

The Packers advanced the ball from their 28 to the Tigers’ 32 in nine plays. But on the final play, Thomas threw over the middle instead of checking down to an open receiver, and Woodaz picked off the ball for his second interception of the year, returning it to the Jesuit 39.

That drained Largo, which gave up touchdowns on Jesuit’s next four series. Freshman quarterback Will Griffin (8-of-14 for 158 yards, one interception), who played at Northside Christian last year, fueled the rally on the ensuing possession by completing 4-of-5 for 61 yards — capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass to junior Bryson Goodwin with 1:57 to go in the third quarter.

Senior running back Joquez Smith, a Temple commit, opened a 21-point fourth quarter with two running touchdowns from 36 and 1 yard out. Smith wound up with 103 yards on 22 carries after being limited to 24 first-half yards. Sophomore Justin Thurman concluded the scoring with a 69-yard burst.

Largo’s defense came up with two turnovers (an interception by senior Ricky Shaw and a fumble recovery by junior Adarius Hayes), but it ran out of gas as Jesuit held the Packers offense to 131 yards in 37 plays. Largo was 3-for-11 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth.

Woodaz said his game-changing play came from repetition.

“I really just stuck to my drop — exactly what our coach told us to do,” he said. “I just played back-to-front, and (Thomas) decided to throw it to the back guy and I was there.”

Largo coach Marcus Paschal said he got the most out of his club.

“We wore down (in) the second half,” he said. “There are no excuses. ... We were definitely paper thin on offense.

“It was a good season. Hats off to our guys. They’re part of history, but this will fuel their fire for this next offseason.”

Thompson said Griffin stepped up when he had to.

“We made some adjustments at halftime,” Thompson said. “... (Griffin) came through and made some great passes.”