Thomas Jefferson rolls on to Hershey
Written by: Josh Funk on Saturday, December 6th, 2008
ALTOONA, Pa. – During pregame warm-ups, West York head coach Ron Miller looked over at the Thomas Jefferson coaching staff, clad in black jackets and khaki shorts in the frigid cold of Mansion Park.
“They’re crazy,” Miller said, but in the same breath, he laughed as he threw in, “but it must work.”
It wasn’t the wardrobe, but the Thomas Jefferson passing game that made short work of the District 3 champion Bulldogs (13-2). TJ (14-1) threw for over 250 yards and five touchdown passes in a dominating 49-21 rout in the “AAA” Western Finals.
With the victory, TJ advances to Hershey for the second straight season, where the black and gold will face Archbishop Wood, a 13-7 victor over Selinsgrove. Kickoff from Hersheypark Stadium will be next Friday night at 7.
After West York mounted a 5:39 drive (which ended in a missed field goal attempt) to open the game, TJ flexed its powerful muscles with a 37-yard seam rout to Dan Virgin. Despite being forced to punt on the drive, Jaguar head coach Bill Cherpak saw something he liked.
“We felt that, as aggressive as they were at the line of scrimmage, we had some opportunities in the passing game,” TJ’s boss said.
Operating mostly from a shotgun set, feature back Brian Baldrige ripped off runs of 3 and 33 yards to set up a Tyler Wehner-to-Jim Giansante 38-yard touchdown pass on a bubble screen play.
Those two Baldrige carries were his only two of the game – he left with a thumb injury and did not return.
Thomas Jefferson’s next score came courtesy of a six-yard pass to Dan Virgin, and Ryan Veitmeier, filling in for Baldrige, gouged a 21-yard touchdown run to make it 20-0 Jaguars with 8:43 left in the half.
After the two teams traded fumbles, West York narrowed the gap when quarterback Alex George (22 rush yards, 99 pass yards) dove in from a yard out, making it 20-7.
But Giansante was just getting started. Thomas Jefferson’s very next play from scrimmage was a 54-yard scoring pass to #23. Giansante added another scoring reception, a 59-yarder, with 1:34 left in the first half, building TJ’s lead to an impressive 34-7.
“He has the ability to make plays – he has speed,” Cherpak said of Giansante, who also returns kicks. On the night, #23 finished with six catches for 197 yards and three touchdowns.
Wehner (274 pass yards, 5 TD; 49 rush yards, TD) scored on a 19-yard run less than two minutes in the second half, and his two-point conversion run invoked the mercy rule. After Brock DeCicco picked off a George pass on West York’s next possession, DeCicco caught a20-yard touchdown pass, capping the TJ scoring spree at 29 unanswered points.
“I felt that maybe we were a little shell shocked by their size and explosiveness,” said West York head coach Ron Miller. “But we have no regrets. We came out and got beat by a much better football team.”
West York did finish with two additional touchdowns. George hooked up with Blake Campbell on a 30-yard touchdown pass to make it 49-14, and senior Blaine Fissel (9 rush, 65 yards, TD) scored on a 32-yard run.
The 13 victories are both school and York County big school records for a season, and Miller said the bar has been raised now for future editions of Bulldog football.
“Now we know what the standard is,” he said, “and TJ is that standard, without question.”
NOTES: The 49 points scored by Thomas Jefferson missed tying the “AAA” Western Finals record by seven…the 1988 Aliquippa Quips set the record by drubbing Bradford 56-16. TJ won its third Western Finals, and improved to 4-0 at Mansion Park Stadium in its history.
TJ racked up 453 yards of offense and 14 first downs, compared to West York’s 190 yards and nine first downs.
Corey Harris, who played the key feature-back role in the Bulldogs’ defeat of Manheim Central last week, was held to six yards rushing on 11 carries.
West York finished the season with 631 points scored – fourth best in District 3 and 15th-best in PIAA history.
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