Thomas Jefferson grinds past West Mifflin
West Mifflin played two deep safeties and had its cornerbacks up on press coverage, just daring Thomas Jefferson to run the ball during Friday's Big 9 showdown between the only unbeaten teams in Class AAA.
With a quarterback who has thrown 31 touchdown passes like Joe Carroll and a receiver who has caught 20 of them like Zach Schademan, that's probably the right plan.
Well, maybe not on this day. Coach Bill Cherpak put away his pass-happy offense for a night and returned to the style a former collegiate offensive lineman would like: ground and pound.
Jake Farrell, who came in with only 84 carries, rushed 24 times for 82 yards, including 11 times in a game-changing, 15-play drive spanning 76 yards in the fourth quarter. The result: Thomas Jefferson has its 23rd conference championship and eighth undefeated regular season with a 28-14 win in front of a standing room-only crowd of more than 6,000 at Jaguars Stadium.
The Jaguars likely will receive the top seed in Class AAA at Monday's playoff pairings meeting.
“We knew we had to pound the ball,” senior center Pat Hall said. “And boy did it feel good doing it.”
Thomas Jefferson (9-0, 8-0) has averaged nearly 20 pass attempts per game. The Jags attempted four passes the entire second half.
“We really didn't plan on passing the ball much in the second half,” Cherpak said. “That was fine. It kept it open for us to run.”
Instead, West Mifflin (8-1, 7-1) continued to show it's a team that wins by running the ball. The WPIAL's second-leading rusher, Jimmy Wheeler, had 121 yards in the first half. He was held to 10 the rest of the way.
“They can run the ball, too,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “It's been passing, passing, passing, but they can control the ball. It has been their method of operation for years.”
Thomas Jefferson raced to a 14-0 lead on a Schademan 79-yard punt return followed by a Carroll-to-Colton Booher 34-yard strike. Wheeler answered with a pair of touchdowns before another Carroll touchdown right before halftime to Jake Mascaro gave TJ a 21-14 lead.
TJ went to the ground in the second half and pulled a West Mifflin — it grounded the game out. Farrell gained 60 yards on 11 carries on a drive that ended with a Byron Minous 3-yard run.
“All of those plays and first downs, you could see the air coming out of them,” Hall said. “They have been known as the running team all year, so to pound it down their throat feels good.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org