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Thomas Jefferson downs Blackhawk, three-peats as WPIAL champs

Written by: on Saturday, November 22nd, 2008


PITTSBURGH – Two years ago, Brian Baldrige had a field day in helping Thomas Jefferson dispose of Blackhawk in the WPIAL title game.

Two years later, guess who Baldrige and the Jaguars were facing in the WPIAL title game?

So there had to be at least a couple of thoughts in #20’s mind about his performance some 730 calendar days ago, right?

“I didn’t care who we played,” Baldrige said.  “There was some history there, but it didn’t mean that much.”

But Baldrige meant a lot to Thomas Jefferson (12-1) – his 138 rushing yards and four touchdowns helped the Jaguars pummel Blackhawk (11-2) 34-14 for the school’s third straight WPIAL title and fourth in the last five years.

Another week, another win against a Pennsylvania high school football team.  TJ extended its streak to 38 consecutive victories against WPIAL competition.  In its last 101 games against the WPIAL, TJ is a staggering 92-9.

But don’t think for a minute that the Jags dwell on their past success. 

“I can honestly say that no one mentioned the fact that we had won two in a row, or whatever it was,” TJ head coach Bill Cherpak said.  “Every senior class is a different group – so there’s no real reason to look back.”

Thomas Jefferson came into the game averaging over 38 points and 422 yards of offense, but, despite the 20-point margin of victory, TJ was held nearly 130 yards below its season average, 298 total yards, to be exact.

But TJ, which built a 20-0 halftime lead, was aided by four Cougar turnovers in the first half.  Ryan Veitmeier got the Jaguars on the scoreboard with 8:35 left in the opening stanza with a 16-yard fumble return.

Baldrige scored the first two of his quartet of touchdowns on runs of three and 10 yards in the second quarter.  He scored TJ’s final touchdowns in the fourth quarter on runs of two and three yards.

What makes Baldrige’s performance, and his senior season, so special is because he missed all of last year with a torn ACL and broken femur in his left leg.  To top it off, it seems that #20 hasn’t even missed a beat.  He surpassed the 1,900-yard mark for the season and is one touchdown shy of 30.

Cherpak knew Baldrige was capable of this.

“The way he was running before he got hurt, he was devastating,” Cherpak said.  “We took it slow in preseason and wondered if we were rushing things a little bit.  But he’s fresh now, so he’s back to (nearly) 100 percent.”

Quarterback Tyler Wehner had himself a game as well, completing 6-of-9 passes for 155 yards.  Four of those completions went to senior receiver Dan Virgin for 106 yards.

Wehner inched ever closer to the school record for passing yardage in a season (2,365 yards), which belongs to Brad Dawson, who set the standard in the 2004 season, the year of TJ’s first PIAA championship.

“The situation with Tyler went from being a most negative thing to a motivational, positive thing,” Cherpak said.

Blackhawk scored both of its touchdowns in the second half courtesy of a five-yard pass from Zach Hayward and a 55-yard run from Bryan Stefanik.

The Cougars, which finished the year with 448 points scored, got as close as 27-14, but a victory was not to be.  Blackhawk finished with just 172 yards of offense and converted only 2-of-10 third downs.

Stefanik paced the Cougars with 109 rushing yards on 14 carries, while Matt Engle added 28 yards on six attempts.

Hayward, who entered the game with 24 touchdown passes against only two interceptions, finished 6-of-21 for 30 yards with three interceptions.

“These kids are not quitters.  Things just didn’t work out,” Blackhawk head coach Joe Hamilton said.  “Football is not a perfect game.  You play with the cards you are dealt.”

While football isn’t a perfect game, it’s quite the contrary for the black and gold.

They’re about as close to perfect as you can get.

NOTE: The 2008 WPIAL title is TJ’s fifth in program history.  The Jags also won the 1980 title over Aliquippa, 28-8.

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