Thomas Jefferson, West Mifflin ready to rumble
These arch-rivals have had this one circled on their Big Nine Conference calendar since the season's opening kickoff.
Two of the WPIAL Class AAA elite teams, Thomas Jefferson (8-0, 7-0) and West Mifflin (8-0, 7-0), will clash this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Jaguar Stadium.
They are the only remaining undefeated teams in the Class AAA division.
“This is definitely one of the best West Mifflin teams we have faced over the years,” said Bill Cherpak, TJ's head coach, about the Titans. “They are very athletic, and have great team speed.
“Their offense is the most diverse it has ever been. It is going to take a great effort by our defense to contain their offense.”
On paper, this year's contest boils down to a contrast in styles — the Jaguars' highly acclaimed passing attack versus the Titans' devastating rushing game.
“We know going in that the winner of the game wins the conference,” Ray Braszo, WM's head coach, said, “which puts a little pressure on both teams.
“I think it will be kind of exciting to have both undefeated at this time.”
Joe Carroll, Thomas Jefferson's senior quarterback, leads the WPIAL in touchdown passes with 31 on the year.
The rifle-armed Carroll has connected on 85 of 132 passes for 1,633 yards.
Senior Zach Schademan, a 5-foot-11 wideout, ranks among the WPIAL's top pass-catchers with 44 receptions for 926 yards and a WPIAL-best 20 touchdowns.
Schademan, who is averaging 21.1 yards per catch, is complemented in the receiving department by Jake Mascaro, a 6-3, 175-pound senior, Colton Booher, a 6-2, 200-pound senior, and Dalton Dietrich, a 5-11, 155-pound junior.
“I am pleased with how our team is coming along and getting better every game,” Cherpak said. “We will definitely have to be at our best on Friday to have a chance to win.”
West Mifflin's junior running back, Jimmy Wheeler (5-9, 165), is the leading rusher in the WPIAL with 1,535 yards and 19 touchdowns on 163 carries.
Wheeler, a state finalist in the 100 and 200 meters, is the fastest athlete on the team. He is averaging 192 yards rushing per game, and 9.5 yards per carry.
Senior quarterback Derrick Fulmore is multi-faceted offensive threat for the Titans. Fulmore, who passed for 700 yards in 2011, has accounted for more than 1,000 yards in total offense this season.
The 6-foot, 190-pound signal caller also has thrown seven touchdown passes and scored 11 times. He accounted for three scores against Trinity, including an electrifying 80-yard punt return.
“The key to their offense is their quarterback,” Cherpak said. “He can hurt you by running or throwing the ball.
“And then they have that running back who is leading the WPIAL in rushing.”
In last year's game against the Jaguars, Fulmore completed 5 of 5 passes for 72 yards and two scores, and ran for 47 yards and a touchdown.
“I think after the year he had last year, he's a lot more confident and he's one of our leaders,” Braszo said. “He's worked hard.”
Junior tight end Marcus Martin, who led the Titans in receiving last season, is a big target in the middle of the field.
“Their tight end is the best I have seen this year,” Cherpak said, “and their lines are always physical.”
Carroll was highly efficient with his throws versus Uniontown, hitting on 6 of 8 aerials for 143 yards and three scores.
Schademan had three receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns, while junior running back Jake Farrell rushed for 143 yards on two TDs on only eight carries.
Farrell has 379 yards rushing and nine touchdowns in the past four games since stepping in for an injured Byron Minous in the TJ backfield.
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.