Thank you to Dunkin’ Pittsburgh, the official sponsor of WPIAL high school football coverage on Pittsburgh Sports Now.
Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said his entire offense came together for one offensive drive late in the third quarter with a singular goal: pound the ball.
Central Valley’s fourth-and-goal attempt was stopped one-yard short and the Jaguars took over on the one-yard line with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Fourteen plays and 99 yards later the Jaguars scored the games final touchdown, capping off an impressive 28-3 nonconference win.
More importantly, the drive took 9:37 off the second-half clock.
This isn’t the first time the Jaguars have used one drive to effective end a game.
In 2015, against West Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs, the Jaguars ran 21 plays and held the ball for 12:12. The Indians did not run one offensive play in the third quarter.
The dominance didn’t have as happy of an ending though.
“We missed the field goal, we didn’t get anything out of it,” said Cherpak. “But it was nice to get the ball and all of our guys wanted to run the ball. Everyone wanted to pound the ball. They were so focused on controlling the line of scrimmage.”
“Our offensive line knew coming into (the game) we needed to be physical with them, we knew we could pound them the whole time,” said running back Dylan Mallozzi who finished with 162 yards and three touchdowns.
The style was a bit of a changeup for Thomas Jefferson as the Jaguars lined up under center most of the game with a traditional fullback and running back.
A few sweeps and outside runs eventually opened up lanes in the middle for fullback Nathan Werderber, who finished with 60 yards on seven rushes.
“When it comes down it, when you’re playing in November and December and it’s cold and freezing, you’re going to run it.”
A 25-point deficit may not seem like a motivator, but it was the closest game the Jaguars have played all season. It was also the best road win for the season.
Road wins against Trinity, Ringgold and Indiana were three of the bottom four teams in the conference, so a matchup against a previously undefeated Central Valley looks good on the ledger.
“We needed a game like that, we needed to be tested,” said Mallozzi. “When we went down (3-0), we knew we were going to bounce back, we knew we could get back in it.
“We really needed a game like that to get us going in the right direction.”
NOTES FROM THE PRESSBOX
My favorite Matisyahu song tells us to Live Like a Warrior.
Friday night, Central Valley quarterback Ameer Dudley played like one.
Dudley was under constant pressure from a stout Thomas Jefferson front-seven and took quite the beating as a result.
The junior limped off the field with an apparent ankle injury late in the second quarter and took a roughing the passer penalty in the second half that looked like it rung his bell.
When the Warriors took a timeout on the game’s last possession, Dudley was seen with his hands on his hips with his head down in obvious pain.
“That’s a competitor, he’s one of our leaders on offense, he wants to do well. He’s his worst critic. I was proud of him, I was proud of a lot of our guys. They battled, the understood the challenge in front of them, and that’s what I liked,” said Central Valley coach Mark Lyons.
Dudley finished 7-15 for 104 yards in the loss.
D-FENCE *clap-clap* D-FENCE
We’re seven games into the season and Thomas Jefferson has surrendered 33 points.
That’s 4.7 points per game.
The crazy thing is, Jeannette is first in the WPIAL at three-points per game, but Thomas Jefferson has been simply amazing.
The Jaguars have allowed 10 points once, have two shutouts and have allowed less than seven points against Ringgold and Central Valley.
“I’m not so sure what they did schematically, but they were pretty damn good up front,” said Lyons. “They won some matchups, and they were pretty good up front.”
The Jaguars knew they were facing a fast, athletic team in Central Valley particularly at quarterback, and they wanted to put pressure on him early.
“We were coming to stop them every drive,” said Werderber.
“We wanted to rush the tackles up the field and let the defensive ends contain. We had a middle linebacker to spy in case he went out of the pocket, we wanted to keep him contained,” said Mallozzi.
“If you let him sit back there and he runs and passes, he’s just so dangerous,” said Cherpak. “We didn’t want to give up any big plays, that was our goal.”
Central Valley converted a 50-yard pass to set up the field goal, but were quiet the rest of the evening.
Wordplay and coaching speak aside, Friday’s game didn’t really mean much.
Both Thomas Jefferson and Central Valley are undefeated in their respective conferences, and both teams are on a short list of WPIAL Championship contenders come late November.
We won’t really see how this game impacted either team until, perhaps, later in the season when Central Valley is trailing, or when Thomas Jefferson is in a close game at the half.
The reality is, one team was going to win this game, the other was going to lose, but both teams have three conference games remaining on their schedule, where the real work will begin.
The takeaways for both coaches is that both team’s played hard and there were no apparent injuries.
“I was talking to Mark before the game, regardless of what we think as coaches, the kids want to play, so this, for them, was like every other big game we’ve had. They’re coming to win. They played their asses off, they played hard.”
“I told our guys after the game: some of the things that seemed easy weren’t easy tonight. Now we need to find out, was it us, or them. We’re going to figure that out over the weekend and moving forward,” said Lyons.
The Central Valley locker room, obviously, wasn’t quite ready to turn the page and move on, and Lyons said that’s a good sign that his team is competitive enough to be upset about the loss.
“Our guys aren’t encouraged if they lose,” said Lyons. “But as we move forward, get into the conference, they’ll understand it maybe better in two or three weeks that this was a great learning experience.”