What would you say would be the main difference between Jesuit and Lake Gibson? One’s obvious, Jesuit is private and an all boys school, Lake Gibson is public and co-ed, but really, what would you say in the main difference? They’re both in the playoffs, both in the final four of their respective classes, so it can’t be that.
There’s a lot more similarities between these two teams than what meets the eye. I’ll leave you to think of that difference until the end.
Here’s what we know – this is Jesuit’s seventh final four appearance since their establishment in 1933. For Lake Gibson, this is their third appearance in the state semifinals. Lake Gibson was the state runner-up in 2003 and 2004, Jesuit claimed second place in the state in 1992.
How did each team get here? That’s a pretty drastic difference. Lake Gibson has defeated their playoff opponents by a combined 11 points when they played Hillsborough, Armwood, and Vanguard. They’ve all been low scoring games.
Jesuit? They’re averaging 54 points per game in their three playoff games. They haven’t played a close game since they lost to Bishop Moore in last year’s state semifinal. Their slimmest margin of victory was 20 points when they played Tampa Catholic in Week 11. They play nationally ranked Plantation American Heritage this evening.
Lake Gibson plays Navarre in what was a long trip to the panhandle yesterday. The Braves practiced on Florida State’s practice field yesterday afternoon after they arrived. Polk County Football posted a video on Twitter yesterday morning of the send-off. It was massive, with probably a couple hundreds of people standing on the bus ramp at Lake Gibson High as the team left the school.
“I felt like we were celebrities when we left, we all felt really good about everything,” said Lake Gibson WR M.J. Link. Link has been a major contributor to the Braves’ success, as he’s the leading receiver on the team with 517 receiving yards and six touchdowns from QB Kevaris Thomas. “The whole school was out there and it was awesome. It’s a great feeling to be doing all of this, and I feel like we’re going to go out and win this game and then win next week.”
Both teams have senior leaders, but they also have a core of juniors that will carry on the traditions that this year’s team leaves. For Jesuit, that lies in junior DE Anthony Nelson, who currently has 16 sacks on the year, but is also one of the most energetic football players on the sidelines you’ll ever see.
“Everybody’s been playing as a family this year,” said Nelson. “We have a fantastic coaching staff, we’ve been preparing all week for this moment on Friday night. The chemistry between all of us is fantastic, we’ve got our senior leaders in Travell [Harris], Danny [Boon], and Malik [Davis], but we’ve got a great core of juniors that have stepped up.”
The coaching has been stellar on both sides, with Jesuit’s Matt Thompson already collecting is fourth straight eight-win season, with nothing but district championships for the four-year coach. It’s also Thompson’s second straight regional title. On the flip side, Lake Gibson’s Doug DeMyer has not lost a single game as the head coach. He’s a perfect 12-0 in his first year as head coach, taking over for his father Keith, who took the Braves to those two title games in ’03 and ’04.
It’s incredible to see a first-year head coach go this far into the playoffs, but that’s the reality for DeMyer. “I absolutely love coach, he’s like a big uncle to all of us,” Link said.
“Coach Thompson is a great guy,” Nelson said. “He’s always caring about the players, wants to talk about what you want to talk about, he’s great at teaching kids, knows just about everything there is to know about defense, and our relationship has grown so much this year as one of his captains.”
Lake Gibson and Jesuit are both undefeated going into tonight’s contests, and they both have division-one prospects on the roster. Jesuit has RB Malik Davis, a Florida commit, ATH Travell Harris, who has nearly 25 verbal offers, while Lake Gibson has Thomas, who acquired an offer from USF over the summer, and LB AJ Deshazor, who’s compiled six Power Five offers.
Both schools have what it takes to be state champions, but only one has ever gotten to that point. Jesuit won a state championship in 1968 under Bill Minahan. Lake Gibson is still searching, but a win against Navarre and against the Charlotte-Carol City winner. Charlotte defeated both Boca Ciega and Clearwater in earlier rounds.
Fans can follow Lake Gibson’s game against Navarre through the Lake Gibson Radio crew on Twitter, while Jesuit fans can follow along with tonight’s game against American Heritage via Jesuit’s Twitter page. BCP will have coverage of tonight’s Robert E. Lee-Plant game in the Class 7A semifinal from Dad’s Stadium this evening.