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Crusaders haven't looked back since loss to Aloha, eyes Beaverton showdown next week

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior running back Kade Wisher and the Crusaders won their fourth straight game on Friday, beating Sunset.

Whenever the epilogue of Jesuit's season is written, in late November, maybe early December, the nadir of a gut-punching loss could be the Crusaders' turning point.

When Aloha cut Jesuit down to size, ending the Metro League juggernaut's 43-game conference win streak and inviting parity into a league known for the Crusaders' dominance, it stirred a wrath inside the Metro giant.

Since then, Jesuit has experienced a renewed focus. Every week, the players say, is championship week. In practice, they've attacked their conditioning with fresh vigor, taken their anger out on that beaten up blocking sled that lurches outside of Cronin Field, and recommitted to the cause.

Aloha didn't do anybody — definitely Beaverton, possibly Tigard, Lake Oswego, or whoever Jesuit faces come this postseason — any favors. Now, there's a price to pay for any opponent Jesuit comes across. If anything, the Crusaders have doubled down on what they do best: pound the rock with the run game, lean on the offensive line, play hard-hitting defense, make you square up for 15 rounds.

Relying on The Franchise, aka Jesuit's offensive line, and a problematic running back tandem of Kade Wisher and Ted Atkinson, the Crusaders cut down Sunset 49-26 on Friday at Jesuit High School. Bring your smelling salts and double buckle that chin strap because the Crusaders are coming, folks. They're pissed but revived and fully aware of the effort they need to produce from here on out.

"Losing to Aloha made us stronger and humbled us," Jesuit senior two-way star Logan Horton said. "It was a new taste, obviously a sour taste. It's something we don't like here at Jesuit. It's not something that will continue. When you have so much talent on a team and you're so used to winning, sometimes that sour taste reminds you you're just like everyone else and you have to work as hard, if not harder, than everyone else to be the best."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset junior tight end/fullback Connor Stevens turns up field against Jesuit.

It was Jesuit's fourth straight win since losing to Aloha. Each victory has had a thundering, message-sending theme behind it. The missive in the Aloha aftermath, from the top down, from the senior leaders to the younger players was simple, but to the point. It's been conveyed and carried out ever since.

"We came together and said that's never going to happen again, Horton said. "We come out with a desperate attitude, like we need to keep going and turn it on. We're not taking any games for granted. We're working our tails off running hills on Mondays, pushing sleds on Mondays and Thursdays. We're giving it all we got and we're ready to roll. There is always room to improve. But we're definitely getting to that high caliber where we need to be for a state championship."

Sunset dropped its second consecutive game, but when the regular season concludes, one could argue nobody has faced a tough schedule than the Apollos. Five of Sunset's foes (Beaverton, Jesuit, Tigard, Aloha and Tualatin) are all ranked in the top-six of the state's power rankings. The Apollos have proven they can hang with the best and will most certainly be in the mix for a home playoff game, possibly two.

After Jesuit jumped out to a 14-0 lead, Sunset sophomore running Caleb Kim surged 54 yards for a spinning, heavy-duty touchdown to bring the Apollos within 14-6 with 2:38 left in the first quarter. Then, junior linebacker Tom McMillan and the Apollo defense forced a three-and-out.

One drive later, Sunset junior linebacker Connor Stevens and senior defensive lineman Ika Ngauamo bagged back-to-back sacks to force a three and out and give the ball back to the Apollos. Midway through the second quarter, Sunset trailed only 14-6.

"We started to be all in," Ngauamo said. "We started playing hard. We love playing against good teams. It makes us better. It makes guys like myself play harder. Now we just have to grind harder next week."

Yet, Wisher (185 yards, three touchdowns) and Atkinson (one touchdown) ran wild behind Jesuit's double tight end formation that's the bedrock of the Crusaders' offensive dominance. The Crusaders put tight end Lucas Christen on one side of the offensive line, bookend Quinn Williamson on the other, line Horton up about a yard behind quarterback Jack Heyden and two yards in front of the ball carrier and let them blow people off the ball.

"It's smash-mouth football," Jesuit senior offensive lineman Nick Noonan said. "It's our mentality. We don't care who you are. We don't care how big you are, how strong you are. We're going to run over you and we're going to score. We try to take our opponents from point A to point B, just move them out of the way. That's a great focal point of our offense."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit running back Ted Atkinson follows a crushing block from fullback Logan Horton.

Jesuit's offensive line is gelling at the right time. Shea Brooks and Charlie Pickard are big, athletic brutes on the left side. Noonan and Declan Quillin pancake and peel dudes on the right side with Jimmy Ray holding down the fort at center. All three of Wisher's touchdowns came in the first half as the dynamic, shifty back scored to the left, up the middle and around the right side of The Franchise, which made sure the Crusader running backs added to their personal highlight reels. Head coach Ken Potter and offensive line coach John Andreas demand excellence from their big guys upfront. Jesuit's systematic success depends on what the offensive line achieves year in and year out. Much is expected and oftentimes The Franchise delivers.

"The offensive line is the key point of the team, it starts with us," Noonan said. "We're the leaders of the offense, basically. We're going to make the plays. We're going to get our running backs in the end zone. I love it. I love playing here. I love being a lineman. It's a big part of the Jesuit tradition. We just have to run the ball and put some pads in the ground."

Horton is a rare breed in this day in age, a blocking fullback who leads the way for Wisher or Atkinson and clears out paths by steamrolling linebackers head-on. It's a selfless act, one that Horton does better than anybody at his position, one that the senior takes pride in. Jesuit knows exactly what it wants to do. So does its opponent. Stack the box, load the line of scrimmage, shoot the gaps, it doesn't matter. The Crusaders can enforce their will upon anybody by numbers and sheer force.

"It's unique, nobody can stop it," Horton said. "Most teams know what we're doing right before we snap the ball because we do it so often but it's all in the attitude of 'We're going to dominate you every play.'"

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior defensive back Kaba Haou comes up with a takeaway against Sunset.

Jesuit, in a battle with Sunset for a quarter and a half, can detonate at the drop of a hat. The Crusaders scored 35 unanswered points from the midway point of the second quarter through the beginning of the fourth. On one tug, Wisher ran left on a busted play, put his foot in the ground, reversed course, spun back to his right, raced to open terrain and then cut past two more Apollos for six. Heyden hit Christen for a score off of a play-action fake and later found Joey Gatto for a 23-yard third quarter touchdown. Senior cornerback Campbell Brandt added a weaving, juking 75-yard punt return for good measure, one that lifted Jesuit's lead to 49-6 with 10:14 left in the fourth.

Sunset kept swinging, though, as senior quarterback Callum Craig hit Kim for a 23-yard touchdown pass and ran in a 10-yard score after a perfect Sam Harker onside kick was recovered by the Apollo special teams' unit. Then junior quarterback Kyle Jaekel hit Nick Molitor for a four-yard score for the final tally.

Jesuit travels to Beaverton for its regular season finale, a matchup between a Beaver team that is 4-0 in Metro and the seven-time conference champs. Should Jesuit win, Beaverton, Aloha and Jesuit would all have one league loss and would split the conference crown. Sunset takes on crosstown rival Westview at home with a shot to strengthen its playoff seeding.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit running back Ted Atkinson ran for a touchdown against Sunset.

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