TAMPA –Dunbar senior Lavaris Preston couldn’t quite find the right words following the school’s 42-0 loss to Tampa Jesuit on Friday in the Region 5A-3 Final.
So he took a hug from senior Malik Thigpen, and quietly accepted that his season was over.
Jesuit turned a first quarter interception into a touchdown, turned two of Dunbar’s five turnovers into scores and executed four solid drives into points, never trailing in a game that was decided in the game’s first few minutes.
Jesuit (13-0), who last won a state championship in 1968, will face Bishop Moore in the Class 5A state semifinals next week. Bishop Moore won a 51-46 thriller over Hallandale in the other region final.
“They have some great athletes,” Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said. “But when we jumped on them quick, I don’t think they could recover. They made mistakes.”
Jesuit combined for 252 yards of total offense on the night, but they finished with 0 first downs and minus 16 yards in the third quarter. Dunbar (9-3) didn’t play well, but its defense was at its best out of the locker room – Preston and senior Jailyn Mays both had sacks in the quarter.
“First of all, I’m just glad to make it,” Dunbar junior Kenny Benjamin said. “That was a big thing for us. They came out and they wanted it more. They deserved what they got. We would have loved to get to the next round, but they got it.”
Jesuit cornerback Travell Harris returned a Tariq Thomas interception for a 40-yard return in the first quarter, Malik Davis answered on the next series with a 2-yard score, and the Tigers padded on two more touchdowns before the break to head into the locker room up 28-0.
Davis, who finished with 126 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown, broke Jesuit’s single season school record for rushing yards in a season and also broke their single season touchdown record, too. He heads into the Class 5A semifinals with 2,164 yards on the season.
Dunbar rarely found a way to stop the back. Davis’ 71-yard reception out of the flat in the first quarter set up the team’s second touchdown, his own 2-yard score.
Dunbar reached the region finals for just the third time since 2011, and for the first time in school history won two playoff games.
“Obviously turnovers,” Dunbar head coach Phil Vogt said. “Five turnovers. Two touchdowns. Plus we gave them short field all night with that. If I had to pick one storyline that would be it.”
Dunbar couldn’t find much offense, either. Benjamin finished with four catches for 54 yards, but others were less productive. Quarterback Tariq Thomas was 7-for-16 with 58 yards and two interceptions and was pressured all night. He left the game late in the third quarter from an injury.
Running back Abraham Alce, the team’s leading rusher entering the game, also left in the third quarter with an injury. He finished with just six carries for 15 yards.
Jesuit’s Nick Perillo pocketed a 2-yard score with 4:02 left in the second quarter following an eight play drive that spanned 61 yards. He added another following Thomas’ second interception with just 2:53 left in the half.
Jesuit went to a hurry-up offense before half and punched the ball into the end zone a little over two minutes later from another 2-yard Perillo score.
Dunbar quarterback replaced Thomas at the end of the third quarter with Jairus Johnson and threw another interception one play later. Jesuit followed with a 41-yard run by Davis and then finished the drive off with a one-yard quarterback sneak with 11:09 left in the quarter.
Dunbar fumbled twice in the final minutes, giving up a 39-yard recovery for a score to Jesuit’s Rodney Higdon.
DUNBAR 0 0 0 0 – 0
JESUIT 14 14 0 14 – 42
J: Reid Clark 40 interception return (kick failed)
J: Malik Davis 2 run (Davis run)
J: Nick Perillo 2 run (Cam Bauman kick)
J: Perillo 2 run (Brendan Gonzalez kick)
J: Danny Boon 1 run (Bauman kick)
J: Rodney Higdon 39 fumble recovery (Gonzalez kick)