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Winovich carries Thomas Jefferson past Highlands and into semifinals

| Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, 12:15 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Highlands' Elijah Jackson (28) breaks up a fourth-down pass intended for Thomas Jefferson's Dalton Dietrich (3) during a WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at Chartiers Valley High School.

Highlands identified Thomas Jefferson's star senior, Michigan recruit Chase Winovich, as its biggest worry heading into Friday's Class AAA quarterfinal at Chartiers Valley High School's stadium.

Thomas Jefferson tabbed the Golden Rams' gritty, blitz-happy defense as its top concern.

Both teams' fears lived up to the hype.

Winovich, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound hybrid quarterback/running back who committed to the Wolverines this summer as a linebacker, willed the No. 2 seed Jaguars (11-0) to a 23-14 win, as he rushed for 229 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries — the rest of Thomas Jefferson combined for 101 yards of offense.

“We knew that to sit back and try to throw the ball was impossible, because they outnumbered us, bringing all those guys,” said Jaguars coach Bill Cherpak, whose team will play No. 3 seed Central Valley in the semifinals. “We wanted to pound it at them and use our size advantage, and for the most part, that was the difference in the game.”

No. 7 seed Highlands (7-4) held Thomas Jefferson, which entered the game averaging 42.7 points per game, to its lowest point total of the season. The Jaguars, who led 14-7 at halftime and broke a 14-14 tie with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, beat each of its previous 10 opponents by at least 21 points.

“I think we shocked a lot of people, but I've told you, our kids, they'll play anybody,” Highlands coach Sam Albert said. “Our defense played a tremendous football game. They were outmanned, outsized, and they played with everything they had. I don't know if I've ever been prouder of a group of young men. We just needed that one more play.”

Winovich went into the locker room at halftime with 13 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns, including a 73-yarder. He finished the third quarter with 19 carries for 140.

Highlands' defense, able to contain the Jaguars standout in the third quarter, rallied to tie the score at 14 when Blake Leri connected with Jeremy Jackson for a 25-yard touchdown throw.

The score remained tied until Winovich scored the game's deciding touchdown on a 6-yard run with 9:09 left in the game.

“Our linemen, even though they were outnumbered most of the time, they found a way to open holes, so I went off of that and told the guys, ‘I'm going to give everything I've got,' ” Winovich said.

Derek Rothey added a 24-yard field goal to cap an almost six-minute drive and give Thomas Jefferson a more comfortable margin with 2:39 left in the game.

During the first quarter, those in the bleachers found out about the feistiness that Cherpak identified earlier this week as Highlands' most apparent attribute. Thomas Jefferson drove to Highlands' 30-yard line or closer twice — they came as close as the 12 — in the first quarter but failed to score

“They were never hit like that before, but they played a good game,” said Highlands senior linebacker Allan Cratsenberg, who finished with 22 tackles. “This defense was the best defense I think I've ever been on. Everyone can fly to the ball. We had great linebackers, great D line and a great secondary. I'm going to miss them.”

Given its best starting field position of the half, Highlands drove 47 yards and took a 7-0 lead with 10:27 left in the second quarter. Leri converted a third-and-1 at Thomas Jefferson's 20 and then scored two plays later on a 14-yard bootleg.

From that point forward, the quarter became Chase's showcase.

Winovich scored on a 73-yard touchdown less than a minute after Leri's touchdown to tie the game at 7. Then, with less than three minutes left in the first half, the Michigan recruit carried the ball on every down of the Jaguars' eight-play, 64-yard drive and found the end zone from 2 yards out with 33 seconds left in the quarter.

“It was there for the taking,” Albert said, “but it's all about making plays, and they made one more than we did.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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