Week 3 Football Recap: SJ Crusaders Take Down Spring For First Win of the Season, 28-21
Justin Wang ‘25
CLAY STADIUM, September 9 – An 0-2 start. A struggling defense. Untimely turnovers. A formidable opponent.
Under the lights on Friday night, none of that mattered to the Strake Jesuit Crusaders (1-2, 0-0 district) as they upset the visiting Spring Lions (1-2, 0-0 district), courtesy of a dramatic go-ahead touchdown from junior Devin Baylor in front of a rollicking Clay Stadium. Sure, Baylor’s emphatic 9-yard plunge was the finishing touch on what head coach Donovan Fikac called “a big win for our program, a big win for this team.” But it took a total team effort for Jesuit to come away with a victory that left the Tailgate game crowd in ecstasies.
Coming into the game, the Crusader defense had given up 74 and 41 points, respectively, in its previous two games, allowing a combined 686 rushing and 609 passing yards in those losses. The Lions looked to exploit these weaknesses from the start, opening the game with 8 runs on a 12-play drive that ended in the Jesuit red zone when an end zone-bound pass from Spring quarterback AJ Williams bounced off the fingertips of his diving receiver.
After taking over, Bryce Fucik’s offense faced a 3rd and 15 at their own 39-yard line when Fucik, rolling right, spotted sophomore Cooper Fulbright standing wide open at the Spring 25. Fulbright outran the Spring secondary for a 61-yard touchdown that had the raucous home crowd jumping for joy. But the euphoria was short-lived, as a 70-yard Spring drive, consisting entirely of designed runs, ended in a 4-yard score to tie the game at 7.
Two plays into the ensuing drive, Fucik bobbled the ball during an awkward exchange with his running back, fumbling the ball away to Spring. Four runs later, Williams took the lead for Spring with an option play, faking a handoff before dashing to the right pylon for a touchdown that fooled everyone in the stadium. But the extra point missed wide left, leaving the Lions’ advantage at 6. It was their only lead of the game.
After a Crusader punt, Williams fumbled a snap that was recovered by junior Levi Norvell to set up the offense at the Spring 35. But Fucik had the ball forced out of his hands while scrambling at the 14, ending the possession in the red zone. The Lions marched down the field before being stopped at the Crusader 21, setting up a 38-yard field goal, which was poorly hit and fell to the ground in the end zone with 2:52 left in the half.
Back came the Crusaders, as Fucik efficiently moved the ball down to the Spring 38. On first down, senior Giacomo Valente took a handoff and barreled down the left sideline, tossing defenders aside all the way to the 10. On the next snap, Fucik rolled left and noticed the open grass in front of him. 10 yards later, the game was tied at 13; an Owen Rossetti extra point gave Jesuit a one-point lead as the teams went into halftime.
Four drives into the second half, Williams faced a 3rd and 4 at his own 38. Dropping back to pass, he targeted a short curl route at the line-to-gain, but senior Josh Hebert read it beautifully and made a diving interception, giving the offense prime position yet again. And yet again, the offense responded to the Spring turnover with one of its own, with another fumbled snap recovered by the Lions in the red zone.
After a short punt by the Lions (quarterback Williams was also their punter), a balanced attack of Devin Baylor runs and Fucik passes moved Jesuit down to the Spring 8. On 3rd and 2, on a huge play, Fucik dropped back to pass and was swamped by three Spring rushers. Backing, twisting, swerving, Fucik somehow turned the corner and made a last-ditch lunge to get an improbable 1st down. On the next snap, he found tight end Chico Holt in the end zone for a 21-13 lead.
After the teams traded long drives that ended with no points, the Spring offense suddenly awoke midway through the fourth quarter, executing another string of 5 consecutive runs to reach the Crusader red zone. On 4th and 3, with the game on the line, Williams went on a highlight run of his own, scampering to the right, evading two defenders, and scoring untouched. The game-tying two-point conversion succeeded, tying the game at 21 with 1:47 left.
After 46 minutes of entertaining, deadlocked football, it was finally time for a hero to emerge, and Fucik rose to the occasion. Starting at his own 22, the Jesuit offense followed this sequence to reach the Spring 35: 12-yard pass, drop, 16-yard pass, 15-yard pass.But an unproductive sequence led to a sudden 4th and 9 at the 34 with 0:37 reading on the clock. Fucik cooly found receiver Bryce Lanier, who sidestepped his way out of bounds at the 9-yard line. Spring called a timeout to rally its reeling defense. It made no difference. On first and goal with 15 seconds left, Baylor got the ball in the backfield, found the edge off the right sideline, and dove into the end zone.
Spring got the ball back at its own 5 with no timeouts and the game effectively over. A Williams heave was picked off by senior Nate Twardowski. With no time on the clock, Twardowski slid to the ground, and the Crusaders earned a huge first win of the season.
Morale-boosting win aside, the game was bizarre in multiple ways. Spring played Williams, listed as a receiver, as both their quarterback and punter. Williams had a few decent throws and flashed his speed on runs, but had 11 passing yards at halftime and was unable to spur the Spring offense forward against the Jesuit front. Most of his punts failed to travel 30 yards in the air, leading to excellent Crusader field position. The Lions placekicker also failed to convert an extra point and his lone field goal attempt of the evening. Myriad drops by Williams’ receivers crippled the Spring offense, and both teams struggled with dropped snap fumbles.
But for Jesuit, the positives outweighed the negatives. Fucik wasn’t quite as prolific as he’d been against Fulshear and Dekaney, but he still almost single-handedly piloted the offense to victory, throwing for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22/32 passing while also leading the team in rushing yards with 12 carries for 74 yards and a score. Valente had 56 yards, while Baylor had 34 and the game-winning touchdown. On the receiving end, senior Bryce Lanier had another huge game with 12 receptions for 118 yards, turning a variety of screens, swing passes, and shorter routes into sizable gains. Fulbright’s lone reception was his 61-yard score to open the game, while Chico Holt had 36 yards and a score. Senior Ret Thibodeaux added 22 yards.
Defensively, seniors Hebert and Twardowski both had interceptions and junior Norvell recovered a fumble. The unit gave up 309 yards, including only 47 through the air, in a refreshing performance after two earlier letdowns.
On special teams, senior Rossetti was impressive. While Spring experienced kicking woes, he calmly put all 4 of his extra points through the uprights. And on a kickoff in the fourth quarter, when the return man burst through Jesuit’s coverage, Rossetti delivered a hit that bowled the Spring player over and energized the Crusader sideline. Senior Aden Shields, too, led off the game with a flying tackle on the opening kickoff that pinned Spring at its own 15 for the first snap.
The importance of the win was not lost on Coach Fikac, who lauded the way his squad “rallied together and encouraged each other when things didn’t go our way.”
“With the week of work they put in, you could see the determination on Friday night.”
The Crusaders have a much-earned bye this week, before opening district play with the homecoming game against Alief Elsik on September 23. Coach Fikac promised that the Crusaders would build on the “very apparent” progress being made each week to “start making a big splash in district.”
“This is exactly the win we needed.”