TJ, Franklin Regional to showcase high-scoring offenses
The longtime king of Class AAA football, Thomas Jefferson, is the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL playoffs but was done no favors by the seeding committee.
Finally somewhat healthy, the Franklin Regional team that was a preseason favorite to win Class AAA will be waiting for the Jaguars at Elizabeth Forward on Friday night.
It seems this showdown would be better fit for Heinz Field in two weeks than for the quarterfinals.
“No kidding,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “I don't know. It's kind of strange the way everything is working out. I mean, you've got us and the team that was everyone's favorite before the season playing in the quarterfinals. Then you've got Montour and West Allegheny also playing on our side of the draw. Pretty tough.”
Cherpak isn't making excuses. His team has won four WPIAL and three PIAA championships during the past decade and thrives when facing these kinds of challenges.
“We're confident just like we always are,” Cherpak said.
Both coaches in this showdown are impressed with the opposition.
Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta marvels at Cherpak's offense.
“It's probably the most elaborate and sophisticated high school offense that you'll ever see,” Botta said. “They have a great quarterback and four great receivers. They aren't good. They're great. And it's not like they can't run the ball. Just a great team.”
This game could develop into a shootout. These are two of the WPIAL's finest offenses, and both units frequently deploy a no-huddle approach that can produce points in bushels.
Look for TJ to work through the air while Franklin Regional will rely heavily on star tailback Dane Brown. The Cornell recruit has produced more than 4,000 yards in his high school career.
“He's just an awesome football player,” Cherpak said. “He was banged up earlier this year, and that's exactly why they're on the No. 8 seed. They'd be much higher if they had him healthy all season. We know how good he is.”
The Jaguars have stars of their own, but Cherpak also has serious health concerns. TJ's top wideout, Zach Schademan, did not play last week and is iffy for Friday's game. Schademan is quarterback Joe Carroll's favorite target and produced two five-touchdown games this season.
Starting safety Zach Talley and starting defensive end Corey Payne, both of whom were injured in last week's 63-19 victory over Hollidaysburg in the first round of the playoffs, also are out this week.
Botta, though, remains plenty wary of TJ, regardless of its injury issues.
“They're just so great every year,” he said. “I have such respect for that program and for Cherp.”
Many teams are intimidated by TJ before opening kickoff, but Franklin Regional has never fallen into that category. The Panthers defeated TJ in the 2005 WPIAL championship game at Heinz Field and have played a number of competitive games with Cherpak's squad in recent years.
“We're not in awe of anybody,” Botta said. “We're not in awe of TJ. We have incredible respect for them. But we've always coached this team to believe it's about us, not the opponent.”
Botta wants Brown to have a terrific game, but instead of hitting home runs, he wouldn't mind if his star running back engineered time-consuming drives to keep TJ's offense off the field.
“Of course I do laugh about that,” Botta said. “We're usually in a hurry to score ourselves. But some long drives this game would be nice.”
Even if Schademan can't play, TJ will attack Franklin Regional through the air. Carroll has thrown for 1,850 yards, 34 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
“There is only so much you can do to stop that team,” Botta said. “We have our hands full, and we know it. But it's going to be a fun football game.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.