PIAA “AAA” Western Final – Thomas Jefferson Preview
Written by: Josh Funk on Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
The Game: PIAA “AAA” Western Final
Date: Friday, Dec. 5th, 2008, from Mansion Park Stadium in Altoona
At stake: Winner will play either Archbishop Wood or Selinsgrove for the “AAA” state championship, Friday, Dec. 12th, at Hersheypark Stadium.
There was once a time where Thomas Jefferson couldn’t get past the WPIAL semifinals, believe it or not. Now, it seems the Jaguars are continually making deep playoff runs year after year.
Not much was known about Thomas Jefferson when it burst onto the statewide scene in 2004. But after the 56-20 demolition the Jags put on Manheim Central for the “AAA” state title, they’ve been a fixture in the Top-5 of most state polls ever since.
Now, Thomas Jefferson (13-1) will making its 4th PIAA semifinals appearance when it takes on District 3 champion West York Area (13-1) Friday night in Altoona. The winner advances to next week’s state title game.
This is TJ’s second all-time match-up against District 3 – the rout of Manheim was the other. In that game, TJ forced seven turnovers, a PIAA finals record. The Jags also racked up 367 yards and 17 first downs – but few had given the black and gold any chance to win.
Now, no one gives TJ’s opposition a chance. And with good reason. Since 2002, Thomas Jefferson is a staggering 91-8, and an owner of an 8-1 record in inter-district playoff games, with the only loss to General McLane in 2006. McLane eventually won the PIAA title that year.
One more statistic: TJ is undefeated at Mansion Park Stadium. Surprise, surprise.
And TJ might be, no wait, is better than last year. Running or passing is not out of the question, unlike last year, when all the Jags had to do was run the ball down opponents’ throats. Offensively, Thomas Jefferson averages over 400 yards per game.
TJ’s ground game averages nearly 246 yards per game. The biggest threat is #20, senior tailback Brian Baldrige, who has surpassed the 2,000-yard mark on the season. Baldrige has totaled 2,156 yards and 34 touchdowns on 272 carries (7.9 yards per carry). Baldrige has run for 3,575 career yards, just 425 yards shy of becoming TJ’s first-ever 4,000-yard rusher.
Quarterback Tyler Wehner is having a phenomenal senior season. He’s completed 101-of-184 passes for 2,224 yards and 25 touchdowns. Wehner already set the school record for touchdown passes in a season, and he’s just 141 yards shy of tying the school’s single-season record for passing yardage, set by Brad Dawson in 2004.
The Jaguars boast three quality receivers in senior Dan Virgin (38 rec., 980 yards, 11 TD), junior Jim Giasante (25 rec., 541 yards, 3 TD) and senior tight end Brock DeCicco (20 rec., 460 yards, 8 TD).
DeCicco is a Pitt commit, and is also a defensive force, where he’s tallied 22 tackles, five sacks, and picked off a pass.
Thomas Jefferson averages 38.1 points per game, while allowing 10.9.
NOTE: Including last season, the WPIAL has made 78 PIAA semifinals appearances, posting a 60-18 record. WPIAL “AAA” teams are 14-6 in Western Finals.
Thomas Jefferson stats from team statistician Chuck Stout; PIAA semifinals information from the 2007 PIAA finals media guide.
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