Elizabeth Forward's Davidson hopes to end losing streak vs. Thomas Jefferson
From near the 35-yard line, Elizabeth Forward's JaQuan Davidson accepted his coach's challenge: Throw the ball through the uprights and his team wouldn't have to run that day at practice.
The uprights at the other end of the field, that is.
“I lost the bet, believe it or not,” EF coach Mike LeDonne said. “I told him, ‘You're never going to do it,' but he let it launch. That thing went through the goalpost and had some room to spare.
“It was 70 yards with a little bit extra.”
For his next amazing feat of strength, Davidson could break his team's 23-game losing streak to Thomas Jefferson, which has dominated the series for more than two decades. Not since 1989 has EF won. But rarely during that span, if ever, has Elizabeth Forward had a player do as much as Davidson, who transferred in just before last season.
With him, EF lost to Thomas Jefferson by only two points a year ago.
“It's amazing how much of a difference one player makes in a program,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. “He's everything for them.”
Along with starting at quarterback, the 6-foot-4, 185-pound senior returns kicks and punts, stars on defense and returns punts. A season ago, Davidson rushed for more than 1,000 yards and threw for nearly 600. He scored 14 touchdowns rushing, four passing and two receiving.
Opponents have taken notice.
“Last year, no one knew about me,” Davidson said. “I just snuck up on them. I surprised a bunch of people last year, but now everyone is prepared.”
Cherpak said he doesn't remember a player with more team value.
“You could say (Rushel) Shell was more important at Hopewell, but he didn't touch the ball every play,” Cherpak said. “(Davidson) touches the ball every single play. And I think he has a lot of freedom to do what he wants, so he can ad lib and use his ability a lot. There's nobody that he plays that he's not a better athlete than.”
Yet, even with Davidson, the Warriors remain underdogs. Thomas Jefferson, ranked No. 2 in Class AAA, has a solid lineup that includes Michigan recruit Chase Winovich. The quarterback/linebacker was sick Week 2 last year and played little versus Elizabeth Forward.
Winovich had an 80-yard scoring run and a 36-yard touchdown pass in last week's 31-10 victory over Ringgold.
At linebacker, Winovich (6-3, 215) should match up with Davidson often.
“Our goal is to hit (Davidson) as many times as possible,” Cherpak said. “You can't let him have any space. If he gets out in space, then we're in trouble.”
In last week's 35-0 victory over Trinity, Davidson had rushing touchdowns of 18 and 12 yards. On 11 carries, Davidson had 101 yards. He also threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to senior Matt Bernadowski, who scored four times.
Always an exceptional athlete, Davidson has better learned how to play quarterback in the past year. Summer passing camps helped him develop, LeDonne said. A year ago, the junior completed just 28 of 88 passes in his first year under center. Before that, Davidson was a wideout.
“He's more seasoned as a quarterback,” LeDonne said. “He was an athlete playing quarterback last year. ... He has an NFL-caliber arm. Now he's getting the mindset to go with that and he's starting to read (defenses) better.”
Elizabeth Forward was Davidson's third high school in three years. A Duquesne native, he spent his freshman year at West Mifflin and sophomore year at McKeesport. He's found stability and success in his second year at EF.
“I'm happy,” he said. “Some probably thought I might transfer again.”
A Division I recruit at defensive back, Davidson had targeted this weekend for choosing a college, but instead will wait. Maybe until early next month, he said. West Virginia and Pitt remain favorites, but he could visit Western Michigan this weekend.
For now, he'll worry about a long awaited trip to Jaguars Stadium.
“(Beating TJ) is important for the players and the fans; 23 years is a long time,” he said.
A year ago, Thomas Jefferson won, 21-19, when EF's tying two-point conversion failed. The score was close throughout. When TJ tried to take a two-touchdown lead in the first half, it was stopped on four-and-goal at the one. TJ held a 14-7 lead at halftime.
LeDonne wasn't satisfied with a close loss, but for the first time in decades, Elizabeth Forward had a chance.
EF was outscored 165-0 in four shutout losses from 2008-11; last year was the first time since a 73-7 loss in 2007 that EF had scored a point against Thomas Jefferson. Before that 66-point loss, it was 61-0 in 2006, 56-7 in 2005, 38-0 in 2004, and 48-7 in 2003.
“TJ has been the king of the hill,” LeDonne said. “It's a big challenge and a big opportunity. We're excited to see what we're made of.”