Another crushing loss for BVA
ROSTRAVER TOWNSHIP — A year ago, Belle Vernon Area ran out of time in a 26-20 heartbreaking loss at Thomas Jefferson.
Friday night, the Leps once again saw the clock strike 0:00, but this time, the loss was even more heartbreaking for the Leps, who fell a single point short to the Jaguars, 14-13.
For BVA coach Aaron Krepps, losing a game by one point is worse than getting blown out.
"It is tougher to lose this way," Krepps said shortly after speaking to his emotional team following the contest. "We lost three games by one point last year and now this.
"Our kids fought all night and have showed it all year. It is tough to lose like this when you play the second-ranked team in the state."
Long-time successful Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak was complimentary of the Leopards.
"Believe me, this is not the last time (BVA) will be seen," he said, suggesting BVA will be a tough out in the postseason. "This was the type of game you need to get ready for the playoffs."
It did not take long for the raucous BVA fan base to get into the contest as BVA forced T.J. Matrascia to fumble the opening kickoff. Matt Green recovered and the Leps took over at the Jaguar 25. However, the momentum shifted two plays later as Zach Schademan intercepted a Matt Naylor pass in the end zone.
After forcing a Thomas Jefferson three-and-out on the next drive, BVA went 47 yards to take a 6-0 lead when Naylor hit Mike Thayer on a 35-yard scoring strike. Zach Weight added the extra point, but Thomas Jefferson's Bruno Natter almost blocked the kick.
The Jaguars wasted no time in marching down the field to tie the score as they went 74 yards on seven plays while eating 3:45 off of the clock. Ryan Crouse hit Tom Greives on a 33-yard touchdown toss and Mike Wainauskis tied the score with the extra point.
After the teams exchanged punts, the Leps moved to the Jaguars 42 as Naylor looked to hit Jake Burritt on a crossing route. But the ball sailed and was picked off by Ryan Ruffing. The Thomas Jefferson senior returned the ball 45 yards to the BVA 30.
Four plays later, Cruse and Greives connected for their second scoring strike, this time from 15 yards.
The Jaguars took a 14-7 lead into halftime although they were outgained in the first half. In the opening 24 minutes, the Leps (4-4, 4-2) picked up 104 yards on 27 plays and the Jaguars (8-1, 6-0) were held to 93 yards on 20 plays.
After Burritt returned the second half kickoff to the Leps 44, BVA started a drive that lasted 7:35 but did not produce any points. After the Leps got to the Jaguars 15, a false start penalty and two sacks left the Leps at the 36.
On third and 31, Naylor hit Burritt with a 12-yard pass. Then on a fourth and 19, Krepps decided to go for a first down instead of attempting a 41-yard field goal. Naylor took the snap, rolled to the right and threw the ball to the left side. Burritt came down with a 23-yard catch at the 2.
On first down, fullback Nick Sewchek came within inches of tying the game, but was stopped just short of the goal line. On second down, Green was stopped for a one-yard loss back to the 2, and on third down, Naylor attempted a pass but it was knocked down. After a BVA timeout, the Leps attempted a toss to the right but Natter stopped Green for a three-yard loss.
"It was very important to stop them from scoring," Natter said. "We blew everything up on that play, and we were confident that we would shut them down there because we are a great defensive team."
After the teams exchanged punts, the Jaguars took over at the Leps 7. By the time the Leps made Thomas Jefferson punt, the guests ran more than five minutes off the clock and made the Leps use their second timeout. The Leps took over on their 36 and on first down, reached into their bag of tricks.
Junior receiver Ian Dobbins went in motion and took a handoff from Naylor. Dobbins had space to run, but threw the ball on an out pattern to Burritt for a 24-yard gain to the Jaguars 40. On the next play, Naylor hit Dobbins with a 28-yard pass to the 12.After an incomplete pass, Naylor connected with Thayer with an 11-yard pass to the 1.
After Sewcheck was stopped for a one-yard loss and Green was stopped two yards deep in the backfield, Krepps took BVA's last timeout. When the Leps came out of the huddle, Dobbins was in the Wildcat shotgun. He took the snap, raced to the left side on a quarterback sweep and scored untouched to make the score 14-13 with 6:00 left.
As the Leps lined up for the extra point, Natter thought back to earlier in the game when BVA scored its first touchdown and he barely missed blocking the extra point.
"All year Chris (Thearle) and I have been doing a play that has almost worked," Natter said. "He blows up the 'A' gap and I follow him through. "I almost had the first one. On the second, it finally worked."
Thayer's snap and Jake Sweitzer's hold were both perfect, but Natter shot up the middle untouched and blocked the kick.
BVA kicked deep, but could not hold the Jaguars and the guests ran out the clock to clinch yet another conference title.
"You have to give it to them as they were strong up front and they wore us out at the end," Krepps said.
Despite the loss, the Leps still control their playoff seeding. If they defeat Elizabeth Forward Friday, they will enter the AAA playoffs as the second seed out of the Big Eight Conference.
NOTES: BVA finished with 224 total yards to TJ's 188 É BVA had 15 first downs, four more than TJ Naylor finished 10 of 18 for 160 yards É Burritt led BVA with 80 yards on five catches while Dobbins had 44 yards on three receptions É Green led BVA with 48 yards on 20 carries.