‘Sloppy’ Thomas Jefferson beats Trinity, sets up matchup against Belle Vernon

Friday, September 18, 2020 | 11:45 PM

For the second consecutive week, Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak watched as his team once again was on the positive side of a lopsided outcome.

The Jaguars followed last week’s 52-0 win over West Mifflin by overcoming an early deficit and making big plays when they needed in a 51-14 triumph over Trinity in Class 4A Big 8 Conference play Friday night at Hiller Stadium.

Despite the large margin of victory, Cherpak wasn’t satisified with his group’s performance.

“We made some big plays, but we were sloppy. It wasn’t a very well played game on our part,” Cherpak said. “Their defensive line dominated the game and played really well. Because of that, we couldn’t run the ball, and they did a nice job of confusing our quarterback with their coverage and what they were doing.

“The score is not indicative of the game because they played well.”

While senior quarterback Jake Pugh did overthrow a few targets and completed only 41% of his passes, he threw for 230 yards and four touchdowns for the Jaguars (2-0, 2-0). The performance came a week after he threw five touchdowns against the Titans.

Pugh tossed a pair of touchdowns to Ian Hansen, one to Preston Zandier and another to DeRon VanBibber.

“Once you get into playing teams with good coaching, and they’re mixing up coverages and doing some things, you have to be able to adjust,” Cherpak said. “We have to get better.”

Hansen was Pugh’s top target, as he finished with seven receptions for 177 yards and touchdowns of 34 and 14 yards. Five of his receptions were for more than 20 yards.

“Ian had an opportunity, and he made some plays,” Cherpak said.

Trinity (1-1, 1-1) shocked TJ by taking advantage of a miscue and striking first within the first minute of the game.

One play after the Hillers intercepted Pugh and took over at the TJ 27-yard line, Conner Roberts connected with Micah Finley for a 27-yard touchdown, giving Trinity a 7-0 lead after a Dante DeRubbo PAT.

Roberts found Finley for Trinity’s only other score — a 19-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Trinity finished with just 99 total yards — 58 passing and 41 rushing — while TJ had 453.

The Jaguars rushed for 181 yards and were led on the ground by VanBibber, who finished with 15 carries for 81 yards and a 1-yard rushing score in the first quarter.

VanBibber’s short scamper followed Pugh’s first TD to Hansen and put TJ out in front 13-7 after 12 minutes.

TJ scored 21 points in the second quarter on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Pugh to VanBibber, another score from Pugh to Hansen and a 48-yard punt return for a touchdown by Zandier, a Youngstown State recruit.

“The punt return certainly gave us a cushion with the score,” Cherpak said, “but we didn’t outplay them by any means.”

TJ took a 34-7 lead into hafltime and extended it on a short 4-yard touchdown pass from Pugh to Zandier.

After Trinity scored its second TD of the night, Jack Sella hit a 26-yard field goal to make it 44-14.

With the game all but decided, TJ added its final score of the night as backup quarterback Joe Lekse connected with Aiden Palmer for a 42-yard touchdown.

Cherpak expects his group to build off the positives and improve on the deficiencies this week in practice.

The Jaguars will have to be at their best next week when they host rival Belle Vernon in a rematch of last year’s WPIAL Class 4A championship game.

“It’s the same as every year, that’s the biggest game and we have to be ready to play,” Cherpak said. “We have to get a lot better, and we have to do it quickly because Belle Vernon is good.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game at Trib HSSN.

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