By René Ferrán | Photos by Taylor Balkom
Michael Rincon could have hung his head after getting overtaken on Jesuit’s running back depth chart.
The Crusaders could have collectively hung their heads after falling behind 21-0 to Westview after one quarter of their Metro League showdown Friday night at Cronin Field.
Instead, Rincon and the No. 8 Crusaders lifted themselves off the deck, brushed themselves off, and rallied for a wild 44-42 victory over the ninth-ranked Wildcats — their 26th consecutive victory in the series.
Rincon entered the season as the starter after a solid spring season, but by Week 3, junior Payton Roth had become the No. 1 back.
But when Roth went down with a sprained ankle two minutes into the second quarter, Jesuit coach Ken Potter turned to Rincon, and the senior delivered with a virtuoso performance, running for 173 yards and four touchdowns.
“Coach always says to stay ready,” Rincon said. “I didn’t know that I’d get that much of a role. I just had to show him.”
Potter knew Rincon wouldn’t pout when he went to the sidelines in favor of Roth, getting only two carries in last week’s victory at Camas.
“He has tremendous pride, and he worked hard in practice, and that work ethic carried over from practice to the game,” Potter said. “That’s the kind of character Michael has, and when the opportunity was there, he just played his heart out.”
Still, Rincon doesn’t get his chance to shine without the Crusaders (3-1) finding a way to climb out of a three-touchdown hole.
Two big plays — one just before halftime, the second coming out of the locker room — completely changed the complexion of the game.
With the Wildcats poised to score in the red zone, senior linebacker Johnny Miller feinted a blitz, instead dropping back into zone coverage, where he intercepted Sam Leavitt’s pass and returned it 90 yards down the right sideline to close the deficit to 21-14 at halftime.
Rincon’s twin brother, Matthew, then drew the Crusaders even with an electrifying 93-yard return of the second-half kickoff to tie the score at 21-21.
“We just changed the momentum right there,” Miller said. “We were done if we didn’t get that interception return there. Just that momentum change of that pick-six, and then the kickoff return — that changed the whole game. We knew we were going to win once we got that touchdown.”
The Wildcats answered with a 10-play drive, going back on top when Jordan Fisher skipped into the end zone on a 10-yard run. Jesuit came right back, with Michael Rincon capping an eight-play drive with a 7-yard run to tie the score again.
The Crusaders took their first lead thanks to their defense. Spencer McKelligon forced an intentional grounding penalty that backed the Wildcats up to their 3. Their punter then stepped out of the end zone for a safety, and following the free kick, Rincon’s third touchdown run — this one from 19 yards — gave Jesuit a two-score lead, 37-28.
“We just needed to keep our heads up,” Rincon said of the comeback. “We made a lot of mental errors in the first half, and the coaches got on us for that in the locker room. We didn’t have many mental errors after that, and our offense did its part in the second half.”
Westview (3-1) came out blazing, looking to earn just its second win ever over the perennial Metro League power. Senior free safety Drew Bennett got things started by snatching a tipped ball and returning it 86 yards down the right sideline for the opening touchdown.
The Wildcats then struck quickly following a Jesuit punt, with Leavitt hitting Darrius Clemons on a 55-yard go route for a touchdown. On the Crusaders’ ensuing possession, Jonny Collyer recovered a fumble near midfield, setting up a 13-yard touchdown run by Aaron Jones and a 21-0 Westview lead that left the Jesuit crowd in stunned silence.
At that point, though, “I think we got a little lackadaisical, like we just assumed we’re going to get the win,” Bennett said. “I was hoping to break the streak. We battled hard, but yeah, it hurts. We’ve just gotta keep our foot on the pedal next time.”
That was one of many lessons Wildcats coach Ryan Atkinson hopes his team takes from nearly toppling the Crusaders.
After all, the Wildcats entered the season off four consecutive two-win seasons. They had Class 6A’s most prolific offense through three games, averaging 50.3 points per game, but their opponents had a combined 0-9 record.
Atkinson believes that for a program looking to get past the quarterfinals for the first time in school history, this defeat could pay dividends two months from now.
“This is a heck of a learning experience for us,” the seventh-year coach said. “I mean, for us to be in four quarters of a ballgame like that, we’re going to grow from it down the road.
“We can’t get complacent. We’ll look at the tape and at the places where we can improve. We’re going to dig down deep inside and learn from this.”
Bennett became the 30th player in state history with three or more interceptions in a game and tied the state record (shared with eight others) with two interception returns for touchdowns. His second, a 22-yarder with 7:46 left, drew the Wildcats within 37-35.
The Crusaders needed three plays to push the lead back to nine, with Rincon breaking one tackle at the line and bulling over a safety in the open field on a 34-yard touchdown run.
The Wildcats rallied yet again, driving 90 yards in 12 plays, with Leavitt hitting Brock Jolie on a 5-yard slant with 3:24 to play. Colby Quist recovered the ensuing onside kick for Jesuit, which got the one first down it needed on a 16-yard pass from Jacob Hutchinson to McKelligon that finally sealed the victory.
“I felt like coming in this game, they had pretty big heads, but we had to keep it level,” Rincon said. “We kept our composure. That’s what Coach (Potter) teaches us to do.”
Jesuit 44, Westview 42
Westview – 21 – 0 – 7 – 14 — 42
Jesuit – 0 – 14 – 23 – 7 — 44
W — Drew Bennett 86 interception return (Rayan Mahin kick), 7:28
W — Darrius Clemons 55 pass from Sam Leavitt (Mahin kick), 4:21
W — Aaron Jones 13 run (Mahin kick), 0:24
J — Michael Rincon 20 run (Kadyn Butcher kick), 6:14
J — Johnny Miller 90 interception return (Butcher kick), 0:20
J — Matthew Rincon 93 kickoff return (Butcher kick), 11:47
W — Jordan Fisher 10 run (Mahin kick), 9:38
J — Mi. Rincon 7 run (Butcher kick), 6:36
J — Safety, punter stepped out of end zone, 5:24
J — Mi. Rincon 16 run (Butcher kick), 0:09
W — Bennett 22 interception return (Mahin kick), 7:46
J — Mi. Rincon 34 run (Butcher kick), 6:31
W — Brock Jolie 5 pass from Leavitt (Mahin kick), 3:24
RUSHING: Westview, Fisher 12-62, Leavitt 10-28. Total 26-77. Jesuit, Mi. Rincon 28-173, Payton Roth 15-94. Total 50-258.
PASSING: Westview, Bennett 20-39-2-300. Jesuit, Jacob Hutchinson 6-8-2-69, Porter Harris 1-4-1-12.
RECEIVING: Westview, Jayden McBreen 6-54, Clemons 4-76, Jolie 4-59, Bennett 2-28, Kaden Huppin 2-32, Xander Millard 2-51. Jesuit, Jace Burton 1-21, Tyree Blake 1-26.
FIRST DOWNS: Westview 21, Jesuit 18. FUMBLES-LOST: Westview 1-0, Jesuit 4-1. PENALTIES-YARDS: Westview 9-90, Jesuit 7-65.
DEFENSE: Westview, Anthony Lowe 9 tackles; Bennett 6 tackles, 3 interceptions, pass breakup; Jones 7 tackles; Matt Lesowski 6 tackles. Jesuit, Garret Speer 10 tackles, pass breakup; Spencer McKelligon 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks.