Belle Vernon next test for undefeated Thomas Jefferson
After two long road-trips, Thomas Jefferson (6-0, 5-0) returns home Friday to host rival Belle Vernon at 7:30 p.m. in a Big Nine Conference game.
It also is the homecoming game on the 2013 schedule for the Jaguars, who have won 48 consecutive contests at TJ Stadium, as well as 75 of their past 77 games in conference play.
“This is a big game for us as we continue our goal of another undefeated season and (winning) the conference championship,” Bill Cherpak, TJ's head coach, said.
The Jaguars cruised past Laurel Highlands last week, 58-21, while Belle Vernon (2-4, 2-3) snapped a four-game losing streak by blanking Trinity, 28-0.
“We have a very young team, and a small senior class,” Aaron Krepps, Belle Vernon's head coach, said. “The kids we do have are extremely battle-tested.”
The Leopards opened the season with a 48-20 win against Uniontown, then lost games against West Mifflin, Ringgold, Elizabeth Forward and a nonconference matchup with Franklin Regional.
“We will have to execute well and be very sharp mentally,” Cherpak said. “They give a lot of different looks on defense, so we will have to be focused on what we are supposed to do.
“We must improve on special teams if we are to be a championship team.”
Thomas Jefferson and Belle Vernon met last year in an identical situation. The Jaguars were 6-0 and 5-0 and had clipped Laurel Highlands, 45-6, the previous week.
The Leopards were 2-4 and 2-3 and had ended a four-game losing streak with a 26-17 win against Trinity.
Thomas Jefferson belted Belle Vernon last season, 57-20, and has won 12 consecutive games versus the Leopards since 2001.
Belle Vernon has been outscored 173-116 this season and is surrendering an average of 28.8 ppg.
The Leopards' quarterback is freshman Mike Fine, who has stepped in for the injured Travis Snyder and completed 20 of 41 passes for 287 yards and two scores.
Snyder, a junior, was a third-year starter at the quarterback position.
Senior WR Cody Menges (15-379), sophomore WR Derek Verkleeren (14-176) and senior TE Jake Sweitzer (12-142) are the team's leading receivers.
Verkleeren, sophomore RB Luke Durigon and junior RB Bradley Sloan have combined for 443 yards on the ground.
Austin Fields, a 6-foot-1, 250-pound senior lineman, is a four-year starter who was an all-conference selection on both sides of the ball a year ago.
“Belle Vernon has the ability to make big plays with some speed guys on offense,” Cherpak said. “Their wide receiver and running back both run well and make a lot of plays for them.
“They have a freshman quarterback who replaced the injured starter a few weeks ago. He is coming along well, and is a threat to throw the ball downfield.”
Thomas Jefferson clipped Laurel Highlands last week after spotting the Mustangs an early 7-0 lead. LH was the first team this season to score a touchdown in the first quarter against the Jaguars.
TJ has outscored the opposition by a 269-50 difference this year, and is averaging 44.8 ppg — behind only West Mifflin's 45.5 ppg average in Class AAA — and 8.3 ppg defensively.
“We will have to play very well on defense (versus Belle Vernon),” Cherpak said.
Junior running back Austin Kemp rushed for 159 yards on 12 carries last week and scored four times.
Kemp has accounted for 781 yards and 10 touchdowns on 86 carries in 2013. He is averaging 9.1 yards per carry.
TJ's Christian Breisinger, a senior quarterback/linebacker, hit on 7 of 9 passes for 148 yards, and also scored on a 33-yard fumble recovery.
The Jaguars' leading receiver on the year, senior Dalton Dietrich, had seven receptions for 148 yards to boost his season totals to 22 catches for 473 yards.
Dietrich, who has scored six touchdowns, is averaging 20.6 yards per catch.
CARLYNTON at BRENTWOOD 7:30 p.m. Friday
Brentwood (3-4, 3-3) and Carlynton (4-3, 3-3) are tied for fifth place in the Black Hills Conference, one game behind Chartiers-Houston (5-2, 4-2).
Clairton, Fort Cherry and Monessen are tied atop the conference standings with 5-1 records.
Four teams from each Class A conference will advance to the WPIAL playoffs.
Both Brentwood, which is celebrating homecoming this week, and Carlynton lost conference games a week ago.
The Spartans fell at Clairton, 37-13, while the Cougars dropped a 16-13 decision at home to Chartiers-Houston.
Carlynton has outscored the opposition by a 159-121 margin this season. The Cougars are averaging 22.7 ppg offensively and allowing 17.3 ppg defensively.
The visitors' chief offensive threat is running back Isiah Canton, a 5-9, 185-pound sophomore who has rushed for 724 yards and scored once on 78 carries.
“Our offense is a little complicated, and it takes some time to grasp,” Terry George, the Cougars' head coach, said.
Carlynton has benefited from an experienced offensive line this season. All are multi-year starters, including seniors Jesse Pigon, Christian Franchick, Joey Martin and Michal Walkoviak.
Junior Mike Griffin has played center for the Cougars since he was a freshman.
Brentwood has been outscored 168-151 this season. The Spartans are averaging 21.6 ppg on offense, while giving up an average of 24 ppg on defense.
Brentwood blanked Carlynton last season, 35-0, and has won seven consecutive times against the Cougars.
The Spartans have won eight of nine games in the series since 2004.
The Cougars have not advanced to the WPIAL playoffs since 2001.
FOX CHAPEL at BALDWIN 7:30 p.m. Friday
Baldwin takes a breather from its Quad Central Conference schedule this week.
The Fighting Highlanders host Quad North Conference foe Fox Chapel, which fell to North Hills last week, 21-17, to drop to 1-5 on the year.
Fox Chapel's only victory came against winless Shaler, 34-14, after the Foxes started out the year with four losses.
The visitors have been outscored by a 175-86 margin this season, and are allowing 32.5 points per game.
Fox Chapel was hurt by season-ending injuries to five projected starters in preseason drills, including tight end Quinton Wirginis, who is committed to Pitt.
The visitors are led by junior quarterback Billy Urso, who has completed 72 of 152 passes for 888 yards and seven scores.
Urso's favorite targets are seniors Brandon Mitchell (20-343), Chad Garnett (18-161) and Keith Frankert (13-188).
Fox Chapel's running game is bolstered by senior twins Nigel Garnett and Chad Garnett, who have clicked for 479 yards on 107 carries between them. Nigel Garnett also has three interceptions.
“Fox Chapel features a handful of solid athletes on both sides of the football,” Baldwin coach Pete Wagner said. “They played a strong North Hills team down to the wire, and they have been showing improvement week-in, and week-out.”
Baldwin lost at Woodland Hills, 42-21, last week to fall to 2-4 overall.
The Fighting Highlanders also are 2-4 in the Quad Central and trail Upper St. Clair, Bethel Park, Woodland Hills, Penn Hills Peters Township and Mt. Lebanon in the conference standings.
Baldwin has been outscored 181-128 this season. The Fighting Highlanders are scoring at a 21.3 ppg clip while allowing 30.2 ppg defensively.
“We were pleased with the effort (last week), but we gave up a handful of plays that were costly,” Wagner said. “Any time you play a team with big-play capabilities, it is important to fight through the adverse times in order to limit the momentum swings.”
Baldwin's offensive catalysts against Woodland Hills were senior wide receiver Luke Smorey and junior quarterback Doug Altavilla.
Smorey reeled in nine receptions for 181 yards and scored three touchdowns. On the year, he has caught 34 passes for 646 yards (19 yards per catch) and nine scores.
Altavilla hit on 17 of 32 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns. On the year, he has thrown for 1,011 yards and 11 scores.
Fox Chapel is tied for sixth place with Butler in the Quad North, behind Central Catholic, Seneca Valley, North Allegheny, North Hills and Pine-Richland.
Baldwin rallied past Fox Chapel, 27-20, last year. The Fighting Highlanders opened their 2010 and 2011 seasons with 35-10 and 30-7 nonconference victories against the Foxes.
SETON-LA SALLE at QUAKER VALLEY 7 p.m. Friday
Seton-La Salle rebounded quickly from its only loss of the year.
The Rebels exploded past visiting Burgettstown, 46-7, last week during their homecoming game by scoring all seven touchdowns in the first half.
Seton-La Salle travels to Quaker Valley for another Century Conference battle as both teams are 5-1 in league play, one game behind frontrunning South Fayette.
The Quakers' top offensive weapon is quarterback Dane Jackson, who has run for 755 yards and passed for 450.
Jackson, a 6-2, 170-pound junior, averages 11.4 yards per rushing attempt, has completed 71.7 percent of his passes, and has accounted for 12 touchdowns (8 passing, 4 rushing).
He is complemented in the backfield by senior RB Gennaro Trovato (334 yards, 5 touchdowns) and junior RB Trewon Marshall (284 yards, 5 touchdowns).
Chris Conlan, a junior wideout, is the team's leading receiver with 18 catches for 243 yards and four touchdowns.
“They have some weapons that can break open a game,” said Greg Perry, Seton-La Salle's head coach, about the Quakers. “Dane Jackson, their quarterback, can take it the distance. He's very quick and elusive, and they do a great job of running him and their fullback.
“We need to contain (Jackson) and make them drive the field.”
Quaker Valley opened the season with five consecutive wins before losing to South Fayette last week, 49-15.
The Quakers own a 204-134 scoring advantage this season compared to Seton-La Salle's 200-78 overall scoring edge.
Quaker Valley averages 34 ppg offensively; the Rebels average 33.3 ppg.
“A lot of our kids can take it the distance once they get the ball in their hands,” John Tortorea, Quaker Valley's head coach, said.
The Quakers switched to a 3-5-3 defensive scheme this season, led by a group of experienced linemen up front, junior linebacker Aaron Cunningham, and Jackson and Conlan coming in at cornerback.
Seven different players scored for Seton-La Salle last week.
Rick Mellick, a junior running back, opened the scoring on a 35-yard run at the 8:51 mark of the first quarter.
Dom DelGreco set up Mellick's touchdown with an outstanding punt return.
Less than two minutes after Mellick's score, Seton junior wideout Danzel McKinley-Lewis bolted five yards into the end zone on a botched Burgettstown punt attempt, followed by an 18-yard touchdown reception later in the first quarter.
Tom Rizza (1-yard run), Kevin Curran (7-yard pass), Dequay Broadwater (33-yard pass) and Brandon Aiello (33-yard run) tacked on scores in the second quarter.
DelGreco successfuly booted four extra points in the game.
Seton-La Salle junior quarterback Tyler Perone completed 10 of 11 passes for 146 yards and three touchdowns. On the year, he has thrown for 1,047 yards and 12 scores.
Seton-La Salle defeated Quaker Valley by 35-6 and 35-0 scores the past two years, and owns a five-game winning streak versus the Quakers.
Quaker Valley has not reached the WPIAL playoffs since the 1999 season.
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.