Football Week 8 Recap: Crusaders Drop Scrappy, Weather-Delayed Affair to Taylor, 17-24

Justin Wang ‘25

ALIEF, 10/13/22 – The Strake Jesuit Fighting Crusaders (3-4, 2-2 district) fell just short against the Alief Taylor Lions on Thursday night in a game with significant playoff implications. Jesuit gave all it had, braving a lengthy weather delay and fighting to the end. But when the clock hit triple zeroes, it was the Crusaders who found themselves on the wrong side of a painful 24-17 loss. Little mistakes snowballed into a damaging defeat at a crucial juncture.

After the game, Jesuit head coach Donovan Fikac was blunt on the team’s mindset, urging his squad to look forward: “Play hard on Friday nights, control what we can control… [Our playoff chances] are still in our hands.” After losing to a Taylor team that was on the ropes early on, the disappointing reality is that the Crusaders face a vital three-week stretch to make the playoffs, and that the margin for error is now minimal if they want to earn the coveted 4th postseason spot in District 3.

Things had been trending up for the Crusaders a few hours earlier, with Taylor kicking off at Crump Stadium, Alief ISD’s district field. On came the Crusaders offense, soaring this season in a high-octane passing attack led by quarterback Bryce Fucik ‘23 and bookended by power running backs Giacomo Valente ‘23 and Devin Baylor ‘23. Averaging a district-leading 42 points per game, Fucik drove the team downfield with a pinpoint throw to hit tight end Chico Holt ‘23 for 23 yards, and electric receiver Bryce Lanier ‘23 followed with an option toss that gained 21 more yards to the Taylor 15. But, in a precursor of things to come, the offense stalled out with 3 straight incompletions, with Fucik overthrowing Holt in the end zone on 3rd and 10 to force a field goal. Owen Rossetti ‘23 converted the kick for a 3-0 lead.

The Lions responded with a long drive of their own that ended with a tying field goal, but the Jesuit offense was cruising the other way with productive plays from Valente and Lanier. The following sequence of events was forgettable: a sack and a drop brought up 3rd down at the Taylor 37, and a Taylor lineman intercepted Fucik’s attempted screen pass to Valente and returned the ball to midfield.

The Lions looked to turn their takeaway into a score, but after a short run on 1st down, the game was delayed for 30 minutes by the referees due to lightning. With the two teams filing into their locker rooms and spectators sheltering under the bleachers, the field was deserted until the delay ended. Taylor reached the Jesuit 15 but missed a 32-yard field goal, and as the Crusader offense took the field, lightning was detected again and another lengthy 90-minute delay ensued. By the time the game resumed at 8:30 pm, the early 6pm start had been turned into an unusually late game.

After a brief warmup, the Crusaders took the field again, with pounding runs by Valente and Baylor pushing into the red zone. On 1st and goal from the 5, Fucik faked a handoff to Valente, then looked left and delivered a strike to Holt in the corner of the end zone for a 10-3 lead.

After a squib kickoff was returned to the Taylor 48, the Crusaders were gifted a takeaway when the Lions fumbled a handoff and linebacker Levi Norvell ‘24 recovered to put the offense in position for another score. But the offense then suffered a rare three-and-out, and punter Christian Luna ‘24 pinned the Lions at their own 17. On second down, a Taylor pass went terribly wrong when quarterback Torrian Roberts overthrew his receiver and corner Jaden Jenkins ‘25 was there for the interception. Jenkins returned the ball to the Taylor 17, earning even better field position. Once again, the offense stalled at the worst possible time. On 3rd and 7, Fucik had Holt open in the endzone but missed him once again to bring Rossetti on for another field goal attempt. But with a few seconds remaining before halftime, Rossetti’s 31-yarder clanked off the right upright, squandering another chance to give the Crusaders some breathing room. The halftime score remained 10-3, but two excellent scoring opportunities had been thrown away by a normally efficient offense.

After halftime was abbreviated due to the weather delay, Taylor came out determined to punish the Crusaders’ wastefulness on offense. A quick seven-play drive did just that, with Roberts waltzing in for a touchdown on 3rd and 1 to turn what should’ve been a massive Jesuit lead into a tie game at 10-10.

Fucik, Valente, and Baylor drove the Crusaders down the field once again, Baylor reached the Taylor 18 on a run, but the offense ran out of steam in the red zone yet again. After a holding penalty made it 2nd and 22, Fucik, rolling left and looking for a receiver, was strip-sacked from behind and lost the ball. After over a dozen plays had slowly moved Jesuit into scoring range, the offense came undone in an instant. The Crusaders entered the 4th quarter with growing concerns.

Those concerns manifested themselves when, on the next drive, Taylor running back Josh-Earl Smith took a handoff from his own 33 and broke loose down the left sideline. Evading the Crusader defense, he looked to be gone when Jaden Jenkins, sprinting full speed down the sideline, dragged Smith down at the 5-yard line. Three runs later, Smith was in the end zone and Taylor had come all the way back to take a 17-10 lead.

Suddenly facing a deficit in the 4th quarter, the offense needed to respond with some quick points. With the normally humming pass offense stifled, Valente and Baylor were called upon to pick up the slack, and they delivered with a masterpiece of downhill running. After Valente reached the Lion 35 on the 6th run of the drive, Baylor took the handoff and bounced through the Taylor defense like a pinball machine, muscling through arm tackles and breaking free from 3 Lions to stumble into the end zone. It was a moment of pure brilliance, and it tied the game at 17 midway through the 4th quarter. It was now up to the defense to get a stop.

The Lions gained a first down on two runs and were then stopped after two yards at the Jesuit 49. The clock was ticking, but there was still hope for a quick turnaround. And then, the dagger: Roberts took a rare pass attempt, looked over the middle, and delivered a high-arcing ball over the coverage of Jenkins and Josh Hebert ‘23 as a Crusader knocked him to the ground. Receiver Bricen Brantley outran Jenkins into the end zone, and the Crusaders were left with another deficit to overcome.

With 3:30 remaining and the ball at his own 27, Fucik was called on to lead yet another late drive with the game at stake. After a run for no gain, he delivered a dart along the sideline to Lanier for 12 yards. Valente picked up a first down on two carries. On first down from his own 49, Fucik threw the ball away under pressure. Dropping back again on 2nd down, he fired the ball to Holt, who was streaking towards the sideline 20 yards downfield. It was a pinpoint throw, but tight coverage jarred the ball from Holt’s hands and into the arms of a waiting Lions defender.

With 2 timeouts and under 2 minutes remaining, the defense had to get a stop to keep the game going. Predictably, the Lions called three straight runs to drain the clock. But after the three forward plunges gained only 7 yards, and with the clock running inside one minute, Taylor lined up for a 4th down that would either finish off the Crusaders or give them new life. As the two teams lined up, a Crusader defender made a quick flinch. A Taylor player momentarily attempted to get out of his crouched position, which should’ve been a false start to force 4th and 8. But instead, the referee crew called Jesuit for encroachment, gifting the Lions a first down and effectively ending the game. At the climax of the battle, an awkward series of events proved to be the deciding factor in an agonizingly close contest. A simple kneeldown ended the game.

The offense played its most disappointing game thus far against the Lions. Bryce Fucik was 9-22 for just 103 yards and 1 touchdown, while also throwing two interceptions. Lanier had 6 catches for 62 yards, Holt caught the lone passing touchdown and had 33 yards on 3 receptions.

Valente and Baylor were the offensive highlights of the game, splitting 29 carries relatively equally – Valente had 15 for 111 yards and Baylor had 14 for 86 – and Baylor added his physical 35-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. They were always reliable even as the passing game proved mercurial. Coach Fikac had high praise for his two running backs, praising them as “explosive and hard-nosed” all at once. “The way they run the ball,” he said, “only makes [Fucik’s] air raid situations better. [Baylor and Valente] get us going. I love how hard they run every time they touch the ball.”

Defensively, Norvell and Jenkins came away with turnovers, and Jenkins’ rundown of Smith was perhaps the most impressive play of the game from both a physical and mental standpoint. Jenkins’ effort “really shows what we’re about,” Fikac said. “We never give up.” He added that Jenkins’ “progression through the season and his toughness are what we admire most about him. He is headed in the right direction.”

The Crusaders’ path to the playoffs is slightly narrower than it was before the game, but with 3 games remaining, Coach Fikac remains unmoved on what he wants from his Crusaders: “Win, win and we’re in. We’re not out of anything until someone tells us we’re out.” Jesuit has Alief Hastings at home next Friday, hosts the Pearland Oilers in what promises to be a titanic showdown, and ends the regular season with a road trip to Shadow Creek, the undefeated defending district champs. Come out to Clay Stadium this Friday to cheer on the Crusaders as they begin this final gauntlet!

Kickoff against Hastings is at 7pm. It is USA Night, so wear red, white, and blue! Come early. Stay late. Be loud. Go Crusaders.