PIAA “AAA” State Title Game – Thomas Jefferson Preview
This just in: Thomas Jefferson is making another trip to Hershey. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The Jaguars are making Hershey one of their many homes-away-from-home.
Truth is it doesn’t matter which stadium Thomas Jefferson plays in these days, whether it’s Elizabeth-Forward High School, Heinz Field, Mansion Park Stadium, or Hershey. They just continue to win.
Bill Cherpak and his Thomas Jefferson Jaguars (14-1) will look to push their record at Hersheypark Stadium to an impressive 3-0 when they take on District 12 champion Archbishop Wood (12-2) Friday night for the Class “AAA” state championship. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
Few teams, let alone coaches, can claim an undefeated record at Hershey, or in the state finals. Thomas Jefferson is one of five programs that own a 2-0 record in PIAA championship games. No program owns a 3-0 record in state title games. If TJ wins, it would be the first.
Also, Bill Cherpak, owner of a 151-29 career record in his 14th season in Jefferson Hills, would become just the second coach with a 3-0 record all-time in Hershey. The other coach with a 3-0 record in Chocolatetown is Upper St. Clair’s Jim Render, winner of two PIAA title games and the 1993 Big-33 All-Star Classic.
So needless to say, the Jefferson Hills juggernaut is on pace with more history. It’s only fitting – TJ has easily been the most dominant “AAA” team in the state this decade. The Jaguars have posted a 92-8 overall record since the start of 2002, including a 69-6 stretch from 2004 to the present day.
Thomas Jefferson’s dominance doesn’t stop there, not by any stretch of the imagination. The black and gold steamroller hasn’t lost to a Pennsylvania opponent since the 2006 Western Finals, a string of 30 games. TJ has won 38 consecutive, 71 of its last 76, and 92 of its last 101 games against WPIAL competition. TJ has appeared in six consecutive WPIAL title games, and have won the last three in a row and four in the last five years.
So what does this mean for first-timer Archbishop Wood, which has had fewer 10-win seasons in its 42-year history than TJ has had in the last seven years?
It means look out – this edition of Thomas Jefferson boasts an offense that coach Cherpak called the “most versatile” unit he’s ever had.
Quite simply, TJ can run or throw, and they can do either very, very well. Take, for example, the 270 rushing yards the Jaguars racked up against District 10 champion Erie Strong Vincent, or the 270 passing yards Tyler Wehner threw for last week in Altoona against West York.
Thomas Jefferson is led on the ground by senior tailback Brian Baldrige, who has run for 2,192 yards and 34 touchdowns. He sat out much of the West York game with an injury, but should be a go this weekend in Hershey.
In addition to Baldrige, Wehner adds 670 yards rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, and Ryan Veitmeier, a 230-yard rusher, picked up the slack in Baldrige’s absence against West York, running for 65 yards and a touchdown.
Wehner has been lights-out in the passing game, which averages 169 yards per game. Wehner is 111-of-198 for 2,498 yards and 30 touchdowns against only six interceptions. He’s thrown for over 3,400 yards in his career for Thomas Jefferson.
When Wehner airs it out, he’s got three quality targets to throw to, in seniors Dan Virgin and Brock DeCicco and junior Jim Giansante. Virgin eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last week in Altoona, and now has 41 catches for 1,037 yards and 12 touchdowns. Giansante had the game of his life (6 catches, 197 yards, 3 TD) last weekend, and now has 31 catches for 738 yards and six scores. And DeCicco, a Pitt commit, has 21 catches for 480 yards and nine touchdowns.
All told, TJ averages 408 yards of offense and 38.8 points per game.
If Thomas Jefferson wins Friday night, it will join Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Rochester as the only other WPIAL schools to win three PIAA football championships.
Will TJ join that elite duo?
Find out Friday night.
Thomas Jefferson statistics are courtesy of team statistician Chuck Stout.
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