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Elizabeth Forward eyes home playoff game, Thomas Jefferson

Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Elizabeth Forward senior defensive lineman Branden Janicki works out during training camp Friday, August 9, 2013.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Josh Yohe
Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013, 11:24 p.m.

Elizabeth Forward coach Mike LeDonne is fairly certain that his team is capable of doing something special this season.

He developed a slogan to remind the Warriors that they are very talented but still haven't done anything yet.

“This is how it goes,” LeDonne said. “We're the wolf that's climbing the hill. And we have to be hungrier than the wolf at the top of the hill.”

The wolf at the top of the hill, of course, is the wolf that has been preying on Elizabeth Forward football for generations. Thomas Jefferson has defeated EF 23 straight times, and the Warriors are frequently reminded of this.

LeDonne said his team doesn't lose sleep thinking about TJ and another powerful conference opponent – West Mifflin Area – but made it clear those teams are in the way, and that his team is capable of playing with them.

Last season, after all, EF nearly stunned TJ in a 21-19 defeat.

“It's not all about beating TJ,” LeDonne said. “Do we have to beat them to be the program that we want to be? No, I don't think so. It's just about working hard on and off the field. If we do that, we know the wins will take care of themselves.”

But still, TJ was bullying EF for five years before any of LeDonne's players were born.

“We know all about it,” LeDonne said. “Don't get me wrong. It's been 23 years. You better be motivated when you play against that team. And we will be.”

The Warriors reached the postseason in 2012, and LeDonne has set a very clear goal for this season. He wants his squad to host a playoff game at Warrior Stadium.

“Elizabeth Forward has never hosted a playoff game,” he said. “Never. And that's something we badly want to do. That would be a big deal for us.”

EF's quarterback is already a big deal.

JaQuan Davidson, a senior, exploded onto the scene last season and gave the Warriors instant credibility.

“So talented,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said, shaking his head.

LeDonne doesn't hide the reality that his team wouldn't be the same without Davidson.

Although the veteran coach likes the rest of his team — “We really have some good players, some players who are getting better,” he said — he realizes his quarterback is the straw that stirs EF's drink.

“JaQuan came here and added new life for this team,” LeDonne said. “It kind of came together last year with him and some of the players we had back. I hope it comes together again.”

LeDonne said that Davidson is even better this season. In 2012, the quarterback rushed for more than 1,000 yards, threw for more than 500 and accounted for 20 touchdowns.

“And remember something,” LeDonne said. “He didn't have time to get ready for the season. We got him in late July, early August. This time around, he really knows the offense, has a better feel for what's going on.”

Davidson's breakout game took place last season against TJ, when his electrifying performance nearly led to a colossal upset.

In Week 2, Davidson and the Warriors get the rematch with the Jagaurs.

For EF to realize its goal of hosting a playoff game, it likely will have to beat TJ or West Mifflin.

“We are very well aware of that,” LeDonne said. “Honestly, I don't think we're at TJ's level yet. We try to emulate them in a lot of ways. And I just want to out-work everyone. Do that, and we'll be fine. And trust me, we'll be ready for that TJ game.”

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