Gorman: Pine-Richland's Phil Jurkovec can check WPIAL title box
Terry Totten had just endured four quarters of the Phil Jurkovec Show when the Central Catholic coach was asked about the precocious Pine-Richland quarterback.
“He checks off every box that can possibly be checked,” Totten said, with a sigh. “He's got it.”
The only thing missing from Jurkovec's resume was a WPIAL football championship, and that served as all the motivation in the world for him.
Jurkovec can check that box, too, after leading Pine-Richland to a 42-7 victory over two-time defending champion Central Catholic on Saturday at Heinz Field.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior, a Notre Dame recruit, completed 16 of 23 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
“I'm not going to lie. It's been a dream of mine since I can remember to play at Heinz Field for the WPIAL championship,” Jurkovec said. “It honestly feels like a relief for me. ... To get it done is the best feeling because you know how much work you put in for this.
“People just see the game and the points we put up and think it comes easy for us but, behind the scenes, there's hours and hours we put in together.”
It wasn't a performance for the WPIAL record books, but it was one for the ages.
What a way for Jurkovec to cap an incredible week. On Thursday, he was presented his jersey for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. On Saturday, he closed the gap on Ben DiNucci's school record for career passing yards (7,619) and a spot in the WPIAL's top-five all time, with 7,519.
“For him to lead this team to a championship, I couldn't be prouder,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “Everybody talks about how fast he is and how far he throws it. It's everything else that makes him a great quarterback. He's got the attitude, competitiveness and moxie.
“No stage is too big.”
Especially not Heinz Field, where Jurkovec was playing for the first time. He stood on the sidelines as a freshman, when DiNucci led the Rams to the 2014 WPIAL 4A title, but never got to play in that game.
Despite a fumble on the first play and an incomplete pass on second down, Jurkovec never got rattled. On third down, he escaped pressure in the pocket and broke a 22-yard run, drawing aahs by juking a defender. He followed that play with a 50-yard run, setting up an option-pitch to Jordan Crawford for a 10-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.
On Pine-Richland's second possession, Jurkovec hit Raymond Falcone on a 48-yard pass down the right sideline to make it 14-0. Before the half, he found Jason DeFrancisis on a flare in the left flat for a 35-yard touchdown and 21-0 halftime lead.
Former Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, a Pine-Richland alum who twice played in WPIAL finals at Heinz Field, watched in amazement from the press box as part of the telecast on AT&T Sportnet.
“There's no holes in his game,” Walker said. “He throws, can run and is smart with the ball and knows how to maneuver in the pocket.”
Walker gave a pep talk to the Rams this week and traded texts with Jurkovec, the latest superstar from a school that has also produced Stanley Cup champion Brandon Saad, World Cup champion Meghan Klingenberg and pro golfer Mike Van Sickle.
“The thing that impressed me the most is he's so humble and confident,” Walker said. “He's very mature for his age.”
Kevin McCabe, who quarterbacked Walker's team, saw similarities in how Jurkovec carries himself on the field.
“He's just the right guy for that position,” McCabe said. “Similar to Neil, his game moves at a different pace intuitively. He'd be a great player, no matter where you put him. Why not quarterback?”
Jurkovec proved he could play under pressure, as he completed a 58-yard touchdown pass to DeFrancisis for a 35-0 lead and added a 25-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter.
If you haven't seen Jurkovec play, you're missing out. He's worth the price of admission, a dual-threat quarterback the WPIAL hasn't seen since Terrelle Pryor and Tyler Palko.
Jurkovec said he was “honored to even be mentioned with those guys,” but might prove to be the best.
“We should all get behind him and be proud of how he represents Western Pennsylvania,” Totten said. “I know I'm going to be cheering for him in the future.”
Check another box for Phil Jurkovec, everybody's All-American quarterback.