Thomas Jefferson to make long trek to Uniontown for Big 9 tuneup
The Thomas Jefferson football team is preparing for its final regular-season exams.
The Jaguars' final test prior to their Big Nine Conference showdown against rival West Mifflin will take place this Friday in Uniontown at 7:30 p.m.
Unfortunately, the Red Raiders most likely won't be provide much of a test for the undefeated local squad.
Uniontown dropped to 1-6 in league play and 1-7 overall with a 26-13 conference loss to Trinity last week.
“Uniontown is very athletic and can make a big play at any time on the field,” Bill Cherpak, Thomas Jefferson's head coach, said. “Their record is not good, and we must make sure that our kids play to our level and not get complacent and sloppy. We must execute at a high level.”
Thomas Jefferson (6-0, 5-0), which is ranked No. 3 in Class AAA in the Trib Total Media high school football rankings, remained unbeaten with a 57-13 conference win at Belle Vernon last week.
“They usually play us tough,” Cherpak said of the Leopards, another TJ rival. “They look(ed) good on film. They have some really good skill players at wide receiver, running back and quarterback.”
As do the Jaguars, who have generated 40 or more points in a game six times this year.
In fact, the local team has one of the most dynamic passing-receiving combinations in the WPIAL in seniors Joe Carroll, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound quarterback, and Zach Schademan, a 5-11, 170-pound wide receiver.
Carroll, in his first year starting at the varsity level, has completed 76 of 133 passes for 1,490 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Carroll ranks among the WPIAL leaders in passing yardage on the season.
Schademan ranks among the WPIAL's leading receivers with 41 catches for 817 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“Zach and Joe are good friends and teammates,” Cherpak said. “They have worked very hard together in the offseason to create the bond they have as quarterback and wide receiver, as the other receivers have done as well.
“I really believe our other outstanding receivers are one of the reasons for the success of Joe and Zach. They are too good that they do not allow the defense to double team Zach.”
Last week, Carroll hit on 20 of 39 passes for 376 yards and five touchdowns — all in the first half.
“There was no thought at all of putting him out there in the second half,” Cherpak said.
“Yeah, I wanted to go out there,” Carroll said. “I am not disappointed, though. We knew it was a big game for them to get into the playoffs, and we knew they were going to come to play. It's a team game, so individual records don't matter.”
Schademan, meanwhile, finished with 13 receptions for 247 yards and five touchdowns — which tied his own team record for TD catches in one game.
“Sometimes we do feel like we can't be stopped,” Schademan said. “We had a lot of undeneath stuff working (against Belle Vernon).”
Schademan is averaging 19.9 yards per catch this year, and has caught at least one touchdown pass in every contest. He owns 11 touchdown grabs of 20 or more yards.
“Zach is not the fastest player on the team, but he plays fast on the field,” Cherpak said. “He knows how to use his body, has excellent hands, and catches everything.”
Jake Farrell, a junior running back, scored twice against Belle Vernon to give him seven touchdowns in the Jaguars' last three games.
Thomas Jefferson, which will host undefeated conference rival West Mifflin next week, is averaging a Class AAA-best 44.1 points per game, and allowing 9.4 ppg.
Uniontown, formerly a Keystone Conference member, has a 31.5 ppg defensive average, and has lost five games in a row.
The Red Raiders' last playoff appearance was in 2009, when they advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals.
Thomas Jefferson defeated Uniontown that year, 34-19, and twice in 2008 — 43-7 in the regular season, and 45-7 in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.
The Red Raiders' offensive catalyst is Xavier Ellis, a 6-0, 160-pound junior quarterback who is a dual passing-running threat.
The receiving corps is paced by junior Jordan Pratt, sophomore Lyric Ellis and senior Juqui Taylor, who led the team in receiving last season.
“This is probably one of the youngest teams I've ever coached,” John Fortugna, Uniontown's head coach, said.
The Red Raiders were 2-7 overall in 2011, and 3-6 in 2010.
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.