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Jesuit New Orleans Wins Louisiana State Title

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Jesuit New Orleans Wins Louisiana State Title

Photo courtesy Blue Jay Rugby

On Saturday, April 21, 2018, the undefeated Jesuit Blue Jays of New Orelans squared off in the Lousiana Boys HS state championship match against a surging and powerful Brother Martin squad.

The outcome was far from certain as the belligerents were each hungry for the title. Both had something to prove. Brother Martin had not been in the state title in a decade and were determined to plant a Crusader flag atop the high peaks of Louisiana rugby. The Blue Jays, for their part, were looking to defend their state title and become the first team since the Blue Jay squads of 2010 and 2011 to be repeat champions. The Crusaders were looking for victory. The Blue Jays were looking for legacy.

The opening stanza of the match saw a pitched battle between the squads. Jesuit pressured the Crusaders early with punishing runs by junior Langston Goldenberg and senior Chuck Lobrano. However, the Jays’ early momentum was repeatedly stymied by a combination of unforced errors and a much improved Crusaders’ defense. The Crusaders, while able to stifle the Jays’ attack, if only barely, were unable to mount any sustained offense against a very aggressive Blue Jay defense. The Crusaders were repeatedly deprived of possession by ball-hawking Jays, including senior Zac Beckmann, whose poach attempt drew a penalty against Brother Martin, and junior Langston Goldenberg. A lightning quick attack off Goldberg’s steal saw the Jays make slashing meters deep into Crusader territory. Jesuit was awarded a penalty, which they elected to kick to touch. Following a successful lineout, senior halfback Brady Moran distributed the ball the senior Gabe Massey, who attacked the Crusader defense with fire and fury, drawing several defenders to himself, all while senior Matt Palmer ran in patient support. Palmer’s patience was rewarded by a well-timed flat pass from Massey. With the defenders drawn to Massey, Palmer was free to hit the nitrous the blast through a gap in the Crusaders’ line and sprint for the first score of the match. Jesuit up 5-0.

The match continued much like it had been played, with Jesuit constantly pressuring but unable to find the easy tries it had enjoyed all season. Jesuit’s defense, however, remained an impenetrable wall of blue and white. Senior Laith Akhalby, who was a whirling dervish on defense, and Gabe Massey teamed up on a ferocious double-tackle of Brother Martin’s massive number three, who the Crusaders had been lobbing at the Jesuit defensive line all afternoon. With their frontal assaults failing, Brother Martin attempted misdirection, electing to run a switch between their number 10 and inside center – to no avail. Jesuit senior Zac Beckmann recognized the switch was under way and quickly moved into the switch-runner’s line, stuffing him the moment he caught the ball. Despite the Jays’ stifling defense, Brother Martin found itself gaining territory, if only thanks to the whistle of the Sir, who had a keen eye for technical infringements by the Blue Jays. A series of penalties found the Crusaders on the Jesuit goal-line, which they were eventually able to cross. Conversion missed. Jesuit 5, Brother Martin 5.

 

The Crusader score was perhaps just the tonic the Jays needed, as it seemed to inject cayenne into their attack. The Jays quickly regained possession after the restart thanks to a series of smothering double-tackles, the first by senior Johnny Tindall and junior David Childs, and the second by Childs again, this time with senior Matt Palmer. Senior Gabe Massey promptly stuffed the next Crusader salvo, which led to a timely poach by senior Tony Cesar, which put the Jays back on the attack at midfield. Senior halfback Moran quickly dished the ball the Massey, who erupted through a gap in the Crusader defense for a long run. As he drew defenders to him Massey passed to a supporting Jay who was unable to collect the pass, leading to a knock-on call by the Sir. Nevertheless, the damage was done, as the Jays were now deep into Crusader territory. The Jays regained possession following the Crusader scrum and went on the attack, repeatedly punching holes in the Brother Martin defense. The boys in Crimson were disorganized and struggling to stop Jesuit, and resorted to unlawful play to stop the attack. The Sir would not have it, however, and awarded Jesuit a penalty at the Crusader 15 meter line. Senior Matt Palmer elected to quick tap and attack. He showed interest in passing to a pod of forwards led by senior Noah Tobin, but ultimately passed to a thundering Gabe Massey, punched like a steam-hammer into and through the Crusaders’ defense, for Jesuit’s second try. Tobin’s conversion was true. Jesuit 12-5.

Yet once again, the Crusaders, with the help of the Sir’s whistle, were able to even the score. A series of penalties against the Jays for their aggressive poaching attempts saw Brother Martin move again and again and again up the field with penalty kicks to touch. The Jays found themselves suddenly in a desperate goal-line stand. Jesuit’s defense held true for several phases, but a Crusader quick-tap off a penalty on the one meter line to one of the Crusaders’ rhino-sized props was too much for the Jays’ to withstand. Following a converted kick, the score was suddenly Jesuit 12, Brother Martin 12 with 20 minutes left in the match.

The final act of the match saw Jesuit make a key defensive adjustment. The coaching staff instructed the Jays to immediately cease and desist from all attempts at counter-rucking and poaching, as these were the tactics drawing the penalties (justly or otherwise) that led directly to Brother Martin’s scores. The Jays made the adjustment and thereby placed a tight tourniquet on the meters given up through penalties. Brother Martin’s offensive attack suddenly had one gear only: reverse. The Jays’ adjustment resulted in more blue and white defenders added to the defensive line, and thus, more defensive pressure. Jesuit continually tackled Crusader defenders behind their gainline, which resulted in the Crusaders losing territory each time they attacked. At one passage of play Brother Martin’s offensive attack yielded a net gain of 30 meters backwards. The pressure paid off, as Jesuit was able to regain possession. Senior flyhalf Gabe Massey punctured the Crusaders’ defense with a powerful run that advanced the Jays into striking distance. Senior halfback Brady Moran quickly recycled the ball to senior Pat Gallagher, who plunged into the Crusaders’ line. Moran than hoisted daring 20 meter pass in the opposite direction to junior Jack Diliberto, who used his patented footwork to outmaneuver three defenders before being brought to the turn. A penalty against the Crusaders gave Jesuit the chance to kick for touch and attempt to maul over the tryline. However, senior Captain Gabe Massey elected to quick-tap and attack. After drawing several defenders to him he dished to an eager Noah Tobin, who collected the rock and then powered low into several wide-eyed defenders. With a powerful leg drive Tobin drove the defenders back and across the try-line, for what turned out to be the game winning try. Tobin then converted his own kick. Jesuit up 19-12.

The match was still an uncertain contest, as the Crusaders were only one score behind. However, momentum had clearly shifted to the Jays, who attacked and pressured Brother Martin deep in their zone. A penalty against Brother Martin gave the Jays the chance to kick for posts. The call was sent in for Tobin, a rare-kicking hooker, to chance the attempt. A hush fell over the crowd as Tobin measured his approach. And moments later, as Tobin’s kick split the uprights, the crowd erupted into cheers, as the match was now all but sealed, with Jesuit up 22-12. Shortly thereafter, the Sir blew the final whistle, and with it, the Jays’ victory, and the making of a new Blue Jay rugby dynasty.

Noah Tobin earned the high distinction of being the first player in league history to come off the bench and win the state championship MVP.

In recognition of their exemplary play throughout the year, the Jays have been invited to play live, on CBS Sports and ESPN, on May 19, during the halftime of the professional match between the NOLA Gold and the Houston SaberCats.