PORTLAND – For a program with a state-record 15 state championships, the last few seasons have been less than satisfying for Jesuit boys soccer.
Since winning the 6A title in 2018, the Crusaders have lost in the quarterfinals, had a postseason wiped out by COVID, and fell in the semifinals last year.
But now, they are on the brink of adding to their collection of blue trophies. The top-seeded Crusaders dominated No. 12 Gresham 6-1 in a semifinal Tuesday night, earning a spot in Saturday's championship match opposite of No. 7 Westview or No. 11 Aloha.
“After losing in the semifinals last year, it means a lot, especially for our seniors, because we just fought for each other,” said senior Drew Pedersen, who scored his team-leading 24th goal of the season. “It feels like, it's our last moment, so we've got to make it count. And I think we're doing that.”
Host Jesuit (13-1-4) got two goals from junior Nathan Peters and single tallies from Pedersen and seniors Aarya Saxena, Omar Barajas and Noah Hayes to end the Cinderella run of Gresham (13-3-2), which was making its first-ever semifinal appearance.
“It's amazing. We've put in so much work, and it's finally paying off,” Peters said. “I feel really happy that we can honor the seniors. They're doing a great job this year. And let's get it done Saturday.”
Jesuit coach Geoff Skipper said his players took a calculated approach to Tuesday's match.
“I don't have to do much motivating with these guys,” Skipper said. “They just take care of themselves. It's a real cerebral group that just gets after it. They know what's at stake. They're a very smart group of players.”
Jesuit led 1-0 at half on a goal by Peters before overwhelming the Gophers at the start of the second half. The Gonzaga-bound Pedersen had his fingerprints all over a four-goal flurry in the first 15 minutes after halftime as the Crusaders, with the wind at their backs, pushed the lead to 5-0.
In the 41st minute, Pedersen's shot deflected off a defender to Saxena, who scored from a left angle. Three minutes later, Pedersen made a long run up the left sideline and fed Barajas, who drilled in a shot from about 15 yards out.
In the 49th minute, Pedersen made a long pass to Barajas, who flagged it down and crossed it to Peters for another goal. Pedersen made it 5-0 in the 55th minute when he drew a foul in the box and drove home a penalty kick.
Skipper said he “couldn't ask for anything more” than the scoring surge.
“They were just amazing,” Skipper said. “We knew we would have the wind in the second half, but I didn't think it was going to be that much of an advantage.”
Added Pedersen: “That's what our 100 percent looks like. If we play that way in the final, I think we can win it all.”
The play of Pedersen, who pulled his quadriceps in the second round and played sparingly in the quarterfinals, was a welcome sight for the Crusaders.
“He's our figurehead,” Peters said of Pedersen. “It makes such a difference when he's not here. That he could come back and show out, it means so much. He gives the drive to our attack.”
Skipper marveled at the unselfishness of Pedersen.
“He's just a different kid,” Pedersen said. “He's got 24 goals, but he sets people up as well. He knows when it's not his turn, and he's more than willing to give it up to someone who's got a better shot. He keeps his head up and he sees his teammates. That's a huge benefit to us.”
The Gophers got a goal from senior Luis Ayona in the 60th minute, and Jesuit's Hayes finished the scoring by converting in the 75th minute.
The loss marked the end of an historic season for Gresham, which hadn't made it as far as the quarterfinals since 1991. After going 6-7-1 last year, the Gophers won the Mt. Hood Conference and shut out their first three playoff foes, the last two on the road.
“This has been a monumental year for these guys,” Gresham coach Rex Moffitt said. “We get bad press over there a little bit, but these kids probably are what Gresham really is about, what they have to fight for. These kids are a testament to that kind of work ethic.”