Old rivals get together again after a 47-year hiatus

    Blue Jays vs. Tigers. What comes to mind?
Of course, you said Jesuit vs. Holy Cross. And no one can blame you for responding to the state’s oldest high school football rivalry.
    But the Blue Jays of Jesuit will meet another team of Tigers when it renews its former rivalry with Pensacola High on Sept. 27. And although no player on either team scheduled to square off at Tad Gormley Stadium was born when the series between the two ended in 1966, Jesuit old-timers still have bitter memories of two meetings in particular.
    The series, which began with a 24-13 Jesuit victory in 1945 and ended with 19-0 Pensy triumph 21 years later, is being revived for at least this season and the next, with the Blue Jays traveling in 2014.
    And it was two past trips that still haunt surviving players from the 1953 and 1960 state championship Jesuit squads.
    Although the Jays have a decisive 12-6 edge on the Florida Tigers, both title teams lost their only games of those seasons in Pensacola.
    Jesuit had won the first seven games of the series through 1952. And the ‘53 team was loaded with talent such as backs Mickey Lanasa, Charles Silva and Richie Petitbon and linemen Al Ecuyer, Russ Carroll and Will Billon.
    The Jays had won their first seven games prior to traveling to Pensacola a week before facing Holy Cross. Pensacola was also undefeated and equally talented.
    The city stadium had been recently expanded to seat 13,000, and it was nearly filled on that night, with 1,500 spectators from New Orleans. It was called by Florida historian Richard Fountain, “the largest crowd ever to see a football game in Pensacola.”
    Jesuit took a 6-0 lead into the fourth quarter when Tiger quarterback  Ronnie Williams faked a handoff, then ran 68 yards down the left sideline into the end zone. The PAT put the Jays behind, 7-6.
What time is it?
    Then, with Jesuit driving late in the game, the scoreboard and game clock mysteriously stopped.
    Lanasa, who scored the Blue Jays’ touchdown, was leading the offense to a position for one final score. Just two yards stood in the way of a come-from-behind victory.
    Billon, the Jesuit center, recalls, “When we got into the huddle one of the referees (who supposedly was keeping time on the field) said that we had enough time for about two plays. When we broke the huddle to hopefully  score and win the game, the referee was standing over the ball and said the game was over.
    “Needless to say, our fans who made the trip and our coaches became unglued. This was home cooking  at  its best,” Billon said.
  Pensacola won the Florida high school state championship later that year.
    Jesuit took out their frustrations by beating Holy Cross, 47-13, the next week, then went on to win the schools’ sixth state championship by edging Byrd, 7-6.
    When Pat Screen arrived on the scene as a sophomore quarterback-tailback in 1958, there wasn’t a Catholic League team that could beat Jesuit for the next three years.
    But Pensacola once again proved to be the sharp thorn in the Blue Jays’ talons.
    The Tigers defeated the Jays 27-7 in 1958 and 25-6 in 1959 with two unbeaten state championship squads.
    But in 1960, Pensy had lost most of its talent and finished the season with a 6-3-1 record.
    One of those wins was against an unbeaten Jesuit team that would win a sixth Louisiana title later that season.
    Again, the Jays traveled to Pensacola for what was supposed to be a Friday night game. They were ready, but nature was not.
    A daylong deluge rendered the field unplayable.
    “A tropical storm had passed through and we had to sit in our motel rooms for two days,” recalled center Larry Ecuyer. “Our coach, Ken Tarzetti, was mad as hell. We couldn’t even work out.”
    Pensacola jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first half and doubled it just minutes into the third period. A 91-yard punt return followed on the next possession and Jesuit found itself on the losing end of a 19-7 score.
    “There were people behind our bench six rows deep,” Ecuyer said. Things worsened.
    Pensacola sports writer wrote of an incident:
    “A near riot occurred when some ‘fans’ charged the field before time expired. Fans were throwing blocks on Blue Jays and a ‘free-for-all’ almost ensued.”
    The two schools continued to play each other nearly each year. Pensy won in 1961 and 1966 and Jesuit in 1962 and 1963.
    Decades have passed and few remember the fierceness of the rivalry.
    Jesuit head coach Wayde Keiser and former coach Billy Murphy helped promote the renewal at a press conference in Pensacola on July 26.
    Ron Brocato can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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