No. 6 Crusaders crush Wildcats, look ahead to promising postseason run next week

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit junior linebacker Zach Carr and the Crusader defense held Westview to just 90 yards of total offense.

The throng of jubilant, triumphant Jesuit Crusaders stuck their shiny gold helmets skyward and mobbed around their veteran head coach, bouncing and moshing as Ken Potter modestly accepted the praise and adoration in the middle of the gathering.

Potter's 300th career win in just 31 seasons of coaching football at Jesuit High School came relatively easily. The Crusaders starred in all three phases of the game. The defense turned in two pick-sixes on defense, one from Briceton Branch and the other from Josh Daul. The offense scored touchdowns four first-half possessions. Junior quarterback Will Spitznagel continued to star in the pocket and found another reliable weapon in tight end Matthew Eichten, who caught two touchdowns. The steady and true David Arndorfer kicked two field goals on special teams in a 48-0 rout of Westview on Friday night.

It was the kind of pulverizing, three-pronged mastery that Potter and his seasoned, long-time coaching staff have put on many a time in the Metro League, particularly in the past five years when triumphs have come in droves. With the first round of the Class 6A playoffs kicking off next week, No. 9 Jesuit (8-1 overall, 7-0 in Metro) looks equipped and suited for a state championship run. That said, in a mindset that their head coach would be proud of, the Crusaders aren't getting caught up in in the postseason hoopla. Instead, they're approaching the playoffs with cautious optimism, knowing unforeseen circumstances can arise at the most inopportune times such as when superstars Trey Lowe and Isaiah Henderson-Brazie missed the playoffs due to injury a season ago. The Crusaders were subsequently upset in the 6A quarterfinals by Central Catholic. Plainly, Jesuit is taking the rest of the season a day at a time.

"Right now we have to stay humble, work step-by-step and make every play count," Branch said. "You never know, injuries can happen. That's what happened last year. We have to be ready for any bumps in the road that come across, just work play-by-play and leave the rest in God's hands."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior linebacker Isaiah Henderson-Brazie had a sack and a tackle for a loss against Westview.

After the game, Lowe, who sat the past two games for health-related reasons, said he'll be ready to play when Jesuit begins its state title quest next Friday. And while the all-state running back's availability will be up to Potter and company's discretion, the fact Lowe is jonesing to get back in the lineup is good news for all involved. With Lowe out, other players such as Branch, Hollands, Daul, safety Trey Werner and running back Alex Echevarria had to step in on both sides of the ball and perform at a high level. Each starter took on more responsibility and starred, meaning Jesuit won't have to lean on Lowe so heavily when he makes his return. The passing game has improved and progressed as well. Spitznagel's ability to push the ball down the field to wide receiver Ennis Ferguson, Henderson-Brazie, Hollands, and Eichten has given the Crusader offense another added dimension. Henderson-Brazie bowed his way to a 67-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the second quarter against Westview and continued to show that when healthy, he's one of the best all-around tight ends in the state. Teams can't and won't be able to stack the box as frequently with the threat of the pass looming. Lowe is perhaps the most feared playmaker in 6A. And with a rapidly improving cache of weapons around him providing support, the Crusaders' ceiling proliferates.

"I'm proud of our offense," Branch said. "We're getting different guys in the mix. We're learning how to use other players in our offense. Our tight ends made some great plays tonight. Our fullbacks laid some nice blocks for our running backs who were finding the holes."

"We're good without Trey, but we're even better with him," Hollands added.

Leading 14-0 in the first quarter, Daul deflected an out route pass from Westview quarterback Cielo Del Rosario and tipped the ball straight into the air which Branch plucked out of the sky and raced back to the paint to make it 21-0.

"I caught that ball and took it to the Holy Land," Branch said with a smile.

After getting victimized for more than 300 yards by Sunset's passing attack last Friday, Jesuit's defensive backs came out focused and keyed in on Westview's offensive ways. Later in the second quarter, Daul dropped back into coverage and didn't have to move to pick off a Del Rosario pass along the right boundary. From there with blockers out in front, Daul dashed 70 yards to the house to make it 38-0 with 7:50 to go in the half. Jesuit held Westview to just 90 yards of total offense including only two yards on the ground. Defensive tackle Travis Spreen and Henderson-Brazie spearheaded a front-seven that sacked Del Rosario four times. At the half, Jesuit led 48-0.

"We had an 'off' week last week," Branch said. "But today we got it back together. We didn't pout and start crying or anything. We woke up and made adjustments. Teams will see that our defense is stepping up and making plays left and right."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit junior defensive back Josh Daul takes back an interception for a touchdown against Westview.

For the first time in 13 years, Westview won't make the postseason. Yet, the future is promising. Freshmen JJ Woodin, EJ Broussard and Jalen Grable all played extensively for a Wildcat program that had to retool and rebuild this year. Del Rosario will be back at quarterback. Junior wide receiver Michael Evan Williamson emerged as a starting pass catcher on the perimeter. With the pipeline stocked with potential stars down the road, Westview won't out of the playoffs for long.

In just over three decades, Potter has skyrocketed up the Oregon High School all-time wins list to fourth overall, only 31 wins away from Roseburg's Thurman Bell and 52 away from the Dayton's Dewey Sullivan.

"It's special to be a part of that, not every coach gets 300 wins," Hollands said. "The fact he did that with us is amazing. He cares about his team. He cries with us, laughs with us, enjoys us. Everything we do, we do together."

Potter's never been about his own stature or personal agenda. A teacher first and a coach second, the dean of the Metro League cares about turning his players into quality young men who go on and do great things off the football field. Potter pushes his players to their peak, makes them practice hard and work for everything they achieve, but he's their biggest ally both in and away from football. And success has never satisfied Potter's appetite for helping his teams improve and succeed from year-to-year on the gridiron. Potter doesn't sit back and dwell on Jesuit's prosperity nor does he wallow in sorrow when the rare losses come. He's old school — fundamentals, sound technique, crisp execution and discipline first —but always looking forward, forever searching for ways to keep Jesuit among the state's elite, invariably keeping his competitive edge razor-sharp. Come Saturday, rest assured Potter will turn on Friday's night game tape and start preparing for another Jesuit playoff journey.

"He takes this coaching thing very seriously," Branch said with a smile. "He takes a lot of time to study film at home with the other coaches. He puts in a lot of effort in helping be the best individuals we can be, not just in football but in life, too."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior kicker David Arndorfer kicked two field goals against Westview.

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