Despite loss in WPIAL quarterfinals, Thomas Jefferson had another statistically strong season

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Saturday, November 18, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Thomas Jefferson and Aliquippa have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for 29 consecutive years.

And that extraordinary streak remained intact for both teams in 2023.

The Jaguars tied for second place with Trinity and Latrobe in the Class 4A Big Seven Conference this year and received a No. 6 seed for the postseason.

But it wasn’t a happy ending for the tradition-rich football power.

After advancing to the WPIAL semifinals or beyond 11 years in a row and in 24 of the past 25 seasons, the Jaguars fell short this year by losing to No. 3 Montour, 51-21, in the quarterfinal round Nov. 11 at Montour Stadium.

Thomas Jefferson traditionally is an explosive offensive team, and the Jaguars maintained that custom this season.

TJ was the top-scoring team in Class 4A with 463 points and a 38.5 ppg average. The Jaguars shut out two conference opponents, Ringgold and Connellsville, by the lopsided scores of 71-0 and 61-0.

The Jaguars amassed 4,244 yards and 62 touchdowns on the ground, and 2,410 yards and 23 scores in the passing department.

Following a preseason quarterback battle between senior Brody Evans and junior Luke Kosko, the TJ coaching staff decided to rotate the two strong-armed signal callers in games.

Evans hit on 91 of 181 passes for 1,394 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also connected on 146 of 251 passes in 2022, gaining 1,986 yards and tossing 19 TDs and nine interceptions.

Evans threw for 3,422 yards and 33 scores the past three seasons to rank among the team’s career passing leaders,

Kosko, a transfer from Seton LaSalle, completed 61 of 106 passes for 996 yards and nine touchdowns. He also tossed six interceptions.

As a team, TJ accumulated 4,427 total offensive yards with 2,410 in the air and 2,017 on the ground.

Evans and senior wideout Sean Sullivan proved to be two of the top players in the WPAL.

Sullivan finished with 50 receptions for 973 yards (19.46 avg.) and 13 touchdowns. Last year, the TJ wideout made 48 catches for 922 yards (19.2 avg.) and 11 scores.

The Jaguars’ mainstay in the offensive backfield was senior running back Elias Lippincott, who rushed for 571 yards and 11 TDs on 102 carries. Lippincott ran for 909 yards and scored 12 times as a junior. He started his varsity career as a sophomore, picking up 854 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Lippincott finished his career with 2,344 yards rushing and 36 touchdowns. He and junior RB Matt Martinis led the Jaguars in scoring with 13 touchdowns apiece.

Other leading rushers for the Jaguars, who ran for 168 yards per game and averaged 200.8 yards passing per game, were Martinis, with 449 yards and eight TDs on 85 carries, and senior RB Aidan Whalen, who accounted for 298 yards and four scores on 58 attempts.

Senior WR Jason Salmon and junior WR Brayden White complemented Sullivan in the team’s receiving corps. Salmon caught 45 passes for 735 yards (16.33 avg.) and six touchdowns. White had 23 receptions for 330 yards (14.35 avg.) and three scores.

Other leading scorers this year included sophomore kicking specialist Sam Wessel with 59 PAT boots and one field goal for 62 points.

Whalen (9) and senior RB Michael Banda (8) chipped in with 17 touchdowns between them.

Salmon and Sullivan also were driving forces in the TJ secondary with eight and five interceptions, respectively.

Martinis was the team’s catalyst on defense with 67 unassisted tackles, 19 assists, one sack, one recovered fumble and one blocked kick.

Kameron Eggerton, a senior TE/LB, also stood out on defense with 38 total tackles and one interception.

Sullivan, Salmon, senior DB Vinnie Heller, junior lineman Justin Schmidt, White, Lippincott and senior lineman Michael Hutchinson all made their presence felt on defense.

The Jaguars racked up 21 interceptions this season led by Salman’s eight and Sullivan’s five. White and junior DB Nate Farison picked off two passes, while freshman WR/LB Kane Eggerton, Heller, Lippincott and Banda registered one apiece.

Sullivan returned two interceptions into the end zone; Eggerton (52 yards), Lippincott (19) and Banda (10) scored one touchdown apiece.

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