DENHAM SPRINGS -- Denham Springs High suffered a season-ending 3-0 defeat to Jesuit on Tuesday in the Division 1 state quarterfinals.
There was no controversy, and there was no luck involved.
The surging Blue Jays just played one of the better games of soccer you will find at this level, and the Yellow Jackets just couldn’t match them.
DSHS coaches and players recognized it after the match.
“Jesuit is just an incredible team,” Jackets’ coach Chris Thorne said. “Hats off to them. They’re the beat team we’ve seen all year.”
Added senior Cameron Restivo, “I think they’re ecstatic and they deserve to be. Even if you take away their first two goals off deflections, they still put this game away. I’m excited and hoping they take it all the way. That’s the best team we’ve played all year.”
Jesuit (18-3-3) nearly dominated the state quarterfinal match from whistle to whistle, winning nearly every 50/50 battle and snuffing out almost every Denham possession before it could even begin in earnest.
Passes in the air were especially ineffective, as the Blue Jays used their superior size to come down with nearly every single ball that went up. Heading into the match, Thorne said the key matchup would be the Jackets’ midfield versus Jesuit’s defense in a classic strength-on-strength battle.
“They owned us,” Thorne said. “I thought we would have been better in the midfield. We had to go from three (defenders) to four early just to contain them. We didn’t want the ball in the air. There were a few moments where we had possession and we were knocking the ball around. When the ball was on the ground, I thought it was competitive. When it went to the air, we just couldn’t beat their size.”
Despite that, DSHS (20-6-4) and Jesuit both ended with around the same number of shots. While Denham’s offense couldn’t sustain possession, the defense held up somewhat well and allowed the first two goals following deflections, contributing to a somewhat misleading score.
The Jays took 13 shots to 10 for DSHS and placed eight on frame while the Jackets landed only five. Denham goalkeeper Brandon Lovett made 5 saves, while Trey Aucoin saved three shots for the Blue Jays.
“We had our chances,” Restivo said. “We just couldn’t put them away.”
Jesuit struck first after only 10 minutes when Chris Tardos’ corner kick was deflected by Restivo directly to Ashton Perkins at the top of the penalty area. Perkins took the first-time touch and fired off a shot that flew above the commotion inside the box and into the net.
The goal was well deserved, as Jesuit forced the issue in the early stages of the match and did not allow DSHS to establish any sustained possession. Nine minutes later the Blue Jays added another goal, again off a set piece.
Like the one before it, a deflection directly led to it. Following a throw-in near the Denham goal, a failed clearance knocked the ball directly into Gabe Sims’ path. Sims had been running towards the net from midfield, and when the ball caught him in stride he took a controlling touch before laying into the ball, blowing it past Lovett.
“Both goals came after the balls were bouncing around,” Thorne said. “We just didn’t do a good enough job of staying marked up. It’s just a little unfortunate. Just a little more discipline and those might not happen.”
There was nothing fluky about Jesuit’s last goal. With Denham pressing hard upfield to get something going late, Perkins fielded a clearance and proceeded to mince up all four defenders the Yellow Jackets were holding back, showcasing incredible touch and speed along the way. His finishing was class too, as he knew all he had to do was avoid Lovett with his shot and didn’t need to rip into the ball.
Denham matched its best finish with a trip to the quarterfinals. While advancing to the semifinals has eluded the Jackets, the post-match mood indicated the returning core group is confident the next step isn’t far away.
For now, those strides towards program history and a chance for the school’s first state championship are on hold as the seniors on the way out celebrate their status as one of the best classes in program history.
“This was a group of high-integrity, high-character young men,” Thorne said. “We came together as a family. They were a bunch of brothers and the chemistry among them was outstanding. That’s what I’m going to remember about this team.”
Added Restivo, holding back tears while turning to face his teammates, “I’m going to remember these boys forever. If I’m going to take anything away from this season, it won’t be that we made it to quarterfinals for the second time in school history. I’m not going to remember that. I’m going to remember these players and coaches.
“This is my second family.”