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WPIAL “AAA” Championship Preview

Written by: on Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

The Game: Blackhawk (7 AAA) @ Thomas Jefferson (7 AAA)

Date: Saturday, Nov. 22nd, 2008, from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh

2008 Record: Blackhawk (11-1), Thomas Jefferson (11-1)

About the WPIAL “AAA” championship: Believe it or not, there is history being made in this WPIAL title game as well.  Then again, when you mention Thomas Jefferson these days, it seems like the black and gold machine is always making history of some sort.

This is the first time since 1980 that Thomas Jefferson has faced a repeat opponent in a WPIAL championship game.  TJ and Blackhawk faced off in 2006, with the Jaguars winning in rather dominating fashion, 34-15.

It is also TJ’s sixth consecutive WPIAL finals berth, which ties the General Braddock powerhouse of the 1950s.  Braddock tied Midland for the 1954 WPIAL title, then proceeded to win five straight titles from 1955-’59, going 55-0 in that five year stretch.

As was expected, Thomas Jefferson ran right through its WPIAL portion of its schedule, something that the Jaguars have done with great frequency.  The black and gold have won 37 consecutive games within District 7, 71 of their last 76, and 91 of their last 100 games.

Since 2002, Thomas Jefferson, a two-time PIAA “AAA” champion, is an impressive 89-8 (.917).  Other past “AAA” powers with stretches of dominance were Strath Haven and Berwick Area.  In terms of the WPIAL, Aliquippa reached eight WPIAL finals in 10 years from 1980-’89, winning five titles from 1984-’89.

The Jaguars are led by senior running back Brian Baldrige, who has run for 1,821 yards and 25 touchdowns this year.  Baldrige missed all of last season with an injury, but, two years ago, ran for 1,400 yards and 19 touchdowns, including an impressive title game performance against Blackhawk (140 rushing yards, 1 TD).

Quarterback Tyler Wehner leads the TJ offense, which averages 38.7 points per game.  Wehner has thrown for 2,003 yards and 25 touchdowns, while adding 571 rush yards and nine scores.

Wehner’s favorite targets are Dan Virgin (33 rec., 833 yards, 13 TD), Jim Giasante (24, 521, 3), and tight end Brock DeCicco (18, 411, 8).  Thomas Jefferson averages 422 yards of offense per game.

Blackhawk is in the WPIAL title game for the ninth time since 1988, and is making its second title game appearance this decade and third since 1998.  The Cougars, however, have not won a championship since 1996, when Blackhawk defeated Belle Vernon 24-6.

The Cougars, winners of four WPIAL titles, average 343 yards of offense and 36.2 points per game.  Blackhawk has also appeared in three PIAA finals, losing to Berwick in 1992 and 1996 and Allentown Central Catholic in 1993.

Bryan Stefanik and Zach Hayward lead the Cougar offense.  Hayward has thrown for 1,865 yards and 24 touchdowns against only two interceptions.  That’s a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 12:1, something only one other Pennsylvania quarterback (Lancaster Catholic junior Kyle Smith) has accomplished this season.

Stefanik, meanwhile, has run for 1,131 yards and 11 touchdowns, an average of just under 100 rushing yards per game.

Other contributors to the Blackhawk offense are running backs Matt Engle (324 rush yards, 9 TD), Christian Cuspard (197, 2), and Christian Molig (190). 

Jake Delmonico (203 rush yards, 582 receiving yards, 12 total TD) is Blackhawk’s leading receiver.  Other receiving threats include Mike Pearson (441 yards, 7 TD) and Austin Wulf (400, 4).

The Cougars are led by head coach Joe Hamilton, who has won 327 career games, second to Jim Render of Upper St. Clair, who has won 329 games in his career.

Blackhawk individual stats from Maxpreps.com; Thomas Jefferson individual stats from Jaguar team statistician Chuck Stout.

 

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