Ringgold loses 'juice,' falls to Thomas Jefferson
The Ringgold football team led mighty Thomas Jefferson by a field goal at halftime Friday – then the Rams completely lost their “juice.”
Jaguars tailback Austin Kemp rushed for two touchdowns and all but three of his 142 yards in the second half as Thomas Jefferson (1-0, 1-0) scored 28 unanswered points for a 31-10 victory in a WPIAL Class AAA Big Nine Conference clash at Joe Montana Stadium.
TJ quarterback Chase Winovich accounted for his team's two other touchdowns with an 80-yard run and a 36-yard pass to Dalton Dietrich.
“One thing we always preach is ‘Getting juice, getting juice' and we had it there and we just lost it,” Ringgold coach Matt Humbert said.
“Our goal offensively is to wear down their defense with our up-tempo stuff and really, they wore us down in the third and fourth quarter. It came down bad field position and them wearing us down.”
The offense for Ringgold (0-1, 0-1), meanwhile, could not muster a single first down in the second half. Quarterback Nico Law hit 8-of-19 passes, including one that was tipped for a key third-quarter interception. Law also rushed 11 times for a team-high 74 yards, but the dynamic senior was bottled up for most of the second half by the Jaguars' defensive front.
“They were giving us what we needed passing-wise and we hit it for the most part, but we sputtered a bit and kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Humbert said.
“We had a couple plays (downfield) we could have hit, but a lineman didn't hold his block, or the quarterback didn't make the read, or the tailback took a step one way too far. We just did not jell together and our offense is predicated on everyone being cohesive.”
Thomas Jefferson opened the scoring when Winovich galloped through three missed tackles on the way to an 80-yard score for a 7-0 lead.
But Ringgold answered on its next possession as Connor Dudas booted a 34-yard field goal to make it 7-3. The Rams captured their only lead of the game, 10-7, when Law zipped a 54-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Alan Pritchett with 4:40 to play in the second half.
Running a slant across the middle, Pritchett hauled in a laser from Law 15 yards down field and outraced the Jaguar defense for the score.
“Our main concern was the big play and we knew they had the ability to do that at any time,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “The way our defense stepped up in the second half – they didn't have a single first down – that was awesome.”
However, after Thomas Jefferson's Derek Rothey tied the game at 10 with a 24-yeard field goal early in the third quarter, the Jaguars offense stuck to a basic I-formation and continued pounding the ball up the middle with Kemp and occasional quick-hitters to fullback Luke Deanovich (six rushes, 44 yards).
“In the first half, we were trying to do too much, trying to out-formation them. At halftime, we said, ‘Let's pound the ball right at them,'” Cherpak said. “We thought we could wear them down because we have a pretty big and active offensive line and that's what we did. That's when we kind of found our identity.”
Ringgold's defensive front continued fighting – including three stops for negative yardage by junior tackle Aaron Szakal and two jarring hits by linebacker Chacar Berry. But the Rams visibly wore down and Kemp ripped off a 32-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter as the Jaguars took the lead for good, 17-10.
The play before, Law had a pass tipped near the line of scrimmage which TJ's Dan Matalula intercepted at midfield and returned to the Rams 32-yard line, as the Rams fought poor field position most of the half.
“That quarterback can make anything happen,” Cherpak said. “They have skill players and (Law) didn't run as much as he usually does, but he's got an arm and he's only going to get better.”
Ringgold had its best chance when it appeared to recover a muffed punt at the Jaguars 40, but the play was nullified on an illegal procedure penalty. Four plays later, Winovich scrambled right and hit a wide-open Dietrich down the right sideline for a 36-yard score.
Kemp capped the night's scoring, rumbling in untouched from five yards out with 8:58 to play.
“Momentum swings are so key in football and sometimes you can underestimate them,” Humbert said. “We came out, did what we wanted to do offensively and defensively and held them to seven points at the half, but we just came out flat in the second half and they came out with the juice.”
NOTES: Ringgold fumbled three times but recovered all three … TJ was whistled for 80 yards on nine penalties, including four holding calls … Pritchett caught three passes for 84 yards for Ringgold … Four other Rams rushers combined for 38 yards on 10 carries. … Dudas boomed a 63-yard punt from his own 5-yard line that landed near midfield and bounced to the TJ 32-yard line.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2635.