Jefferson-Morgan looking to find swagger, end playoff drought

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Saturday, August 29, 2020 | 10:00 PM


The Jefferson-Morgan football team has some players who might turn some heads as they step off the bus this season.

A pair of wide receivers who stand at least 6-foot-3. A 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield. A 300-pound defensive tackle. These are assets that most teams don’t have at the Class A level.

It reminds coach Aaron Giorgi of the 2012 squad, which is significant because that’s the last time the Rockets made the playoffs.

“It’s a long time coming for us,” Giorgi said. “That group in 2012 was an intimidating group as well. I was there as an assistant. That team just had swagger. They were intimidating and they were going to punch you in the mouth. I’m hoping that’s where we’re getting to again.”

Some teams carrying a seven-year playoff drought are building from the ground floor but that doesn’t apply to the Rockets. They have key players back at multiple positions and have every reason to expect marked improvement after going 3-7 a year ago.

That starts at quarterback, where Cole Jones threw for 779 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman last season.

“I’ve had kids play there before because they were one of our better athletes or they could throw the ball well or they were a good game manager or they had the intelligence to play there,” Giorgi said. “Cole Jones plays quarterback. He understands the game. That’s what he is. For the first time in a while, we have a true quarterback there.”

Senior Jonathan Wolfe returns after running for 1,012 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

Owen Maddish and Cole Fowler are the big targets at wide receiver. The offensive line will feature a trio of three-year starters. Andrew Vessels is a big, quick defensive tackle.

“This year, more than any other year, looking into the season, I’d say we have the right pieces across the board,” Giorgi said. “We have the right pieces offensively and defensively.”

The Rockets also have the depth.

“Very pleased with numbers right now,” Giorgi said. “We’re probably looking at somewhere between 30 to 35 kids on the roster and I have kids spread out to every position. All the pieces are coming together for this year.”

With last year’s playoff teams, West Greene and California, losing a lot to graduation, the Tri-County South looks to be more wide open this season. The addition of Carmichaels adds another contender.

“I don’t think there’s a frontrunner,” Giorgi said. “Unlike years past when you had the Ben Jacksons of the world you had to worry about.”

Giorgi thinks Jefferson-Morgan can contend with any of those teams, and he doesn’t make that prediction through rose-colored glasses. If he didn’t think the Rockets were in the conversation, he’d say so.

“There were some years where, yes, we were just hanging on,” Giorgi said. “As a coach, there was a realistic approach like, ‘OK, we’re a two- or three-win team maybe.’ It’s just reality. I would say, in the last couple years, we’re inching closer. I’m excited about this year. The hard effort from a lot of these kids coming up, everything’s falling in place.”

Schedule

Coach: Aaron Giorgi

2019 record: 3-7, 3-4 in Class A Tri-County South

All-time record: 348-451-36

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Carmichaels*, 7

9.18, at Avella*, 7

9.25, Monessen*, 7

10.2, Bentworth*, 7

10.9, at California*, 7

10.16, Mapletown*, 7

10.23, West Greene*, 7

*Class A Tri-County South Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Cole Jones

52-158, 779 yards, 6 TDs

Rushing: Jonathan Wolfe

164-1,012 yards, 11 TDs

Receiving: Cole Fowler

18-302 yards, 2 TDs

Fast facts

• The last time Jefferson-Morgan made the playoffs, the Rockets went 7-3 and tied for second place in the Tri-County South in 2012. During their seven-year playoff drought, there were three near misses. They tied for the final playoff spot in 2014 and were a game out in 2015 and 2019.

• The key game for Jefferson-Morgan last season was a Week 3 matchup with Monessen. The Greyhounds won, 28-21, on a 38-yard touchdown pass with 1:19 to play. Monessen finished 4-3 in the conference. Jefferson-Morgan went 3-4.

• Coronavirus schedule changes eliminated Jefferson-Morgan’s Week 1 matchup with perennial Class 2A power Washington. It was converted to a scrimmage.

• It’s been 46 years since Jefferson-Morgan’s last WPIAL championship, a 20-0 win over Midland in 1974. Jefferson-Morgan also won the year before, beating Western Beaver, 35-6.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at jbombulie@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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