TJ passes test with win over Franklin Regional
Bill Cherpak preached all week that if his team wasn't able to run the ball effectively against Franklin Regional, they weren't going to win.
Well, so much for that thought.
Joe Carroll threw for 396 yards and three touchdowns, Jake Mascaro caught nine passes for 203 yards and Zach Schademan added 116 yards through the air as Thomas Jefferson fought its way back into the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals with a 24-21 win over Franklin Regional at Elizabeth Forward.
The Jaguars snapped a streak of 13 straight semifinal appearances last year with a loss to Knoch.
Thomas Jefferson (11-0) will take on West Allegheny, a 14-2 winner Montour, next week with a trip to the championship game in the balance.
“These kids don't even know it is the semis,” Cherpak said. “They just know that we are playing next week and that's the big thing.”
The Jaguars are more interested in getting another WPIAL title. It's something that has eluded them since 2008.
“We have talked about where we were four or five years ago and that's where want to get back to,” Carroll said. “This was a team win. Everybody stepped up tonight.”
Thomas Jefferson came into the game as one of the best passing offenses in the WPIAL. Franklin Regional made them earn everything they got.
“They didn't want us to throw the ball,” Cherpak said. “They were playing off and two-deep and we still made some plays.”
None were bigger than moments following Dane Brown's 8-yard touchdown run with nine minutes left that pulled the game within a field goal at 17-14.
On the ensuing play, Carroll hit Mascaro on a slant that he took 85 yards for a back-breaking touchdown and a 24-14 Thomas Jefferson lead.
“He got past the backers and the safety and made a big play,” Carroll said.
“It's about making plays, and they made a couple more than we did,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “We knew they were skilled. We knew they could bust one at any time and that one at the end, the skinny post, was a backbreaker.”
While Franklin Regional was determined to stop TJ's passing game, the Jaguars didn't want anything to do with Brown, a 4,000 yard running back.
The Panthers came into the game averaging more than 200 yards per game on the ground. TJ limited Brown to 64 yards on 16 carries and Franklin Regional to 61 total yards on the ground.
“We bottled him up for the most part,” Cherpak said. “That touchdown run at the end of the game was amazing.”
Despite wanting to run the ball, Thomas Jefferson came out throwing.
A 35-yard completion to Schademan followed by a 31-yarder to Mascaro set TJ up at the 7-yard line.
Franklin Regional's defense stiffened and forced the a 24-yard field goal by Evan Danscak to make it 3-0.
The Jaguars defense held down the Panthers for the better part of the first half forcing three three-and-outs before a pair of costly mistakes led to a Franklin Regional touchdown.
Russell Siess' roughing the quarterback call on a third-down Nico Lodovico incompletion kept the drive alive.
Franklin Regional made TJ pay three plays later when Colin Jonov turned a short pass into a 50-yard touchdown when he broke Dalton Dietrich's tackle and rambled down the far sideline for a touchdown and a Panthers 7-3 lead.
“We really left a lot out there in the second half,” Cherpak said. “But we came out at half and got some back.”
Thomas Jefferson came out throwing in the second half, too. Carroll connected with Dietrich for 27 yards on the first play of the third, converted a third down pass to Dietrich a few plays later then tossed a 34-yard touchdown to give the Jaguars a 10-7 lead.
Following a Colton Booher interception two plays later, Carroll went deep to Zach Schademan for 68 yards that set up another Deitrich touchdown reception – this time from 7 yards away to give TJ a 17-7 lead.
“Somebody made a play every time we needed it,” Cherpak said. “That team we beat was good. That team right there could've easily won Triple-A.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org