Thomas Jefferson controls line of scrimmage, blanks South Fayette

Friday, September 10, 2021 | 11:16 PM

In his 26 years as coach at Thomas Jefferson, it always seems the one constant under Bill Cherpak is dominant play on the interior line. The 2021 edition of the Jaguars is no different, as they held an opponent to negative yards rushing for the second consecutive week and more than doubled up South Fayette in time of possession in a 27-0 win in their home opener.

“That’s the game we want to play,” Cherpak said. “We want to be physical up front on both offense and defense and control the line of scrimmage.”

After a three-and-out by the Lions, Thomas Jefferson went to work on the ground with Conner Murga gaining 41 yards on four carries before sophomore Elias Lippincott capped off the drive with a 2-yard score.

It was much more of the same on the next drive for the Jaguars as they embarked on a 13-play, 60-yard drive that took 7:40. It was quarterback Joe Lekse’s turn to find paydirt, as he scored from 2 yards to give Thomas Jefferson a 13-0 lead.

The next drive was a bit different for Thomas Jefferson. It took the Jaguars one play to score, as Lekse perfectly executed play action and found senior McClain Flinn for an 80-yard touchdown pass. Three touchdowns on three straight drives had Thomas Jefferson leading 20-0 with more than seven minutes remaining in the second quarter.

“Their ends were just collapsing so much to try and stop our running game,” Cherpak said of South Fayette. “We figured, let’s get outside and give Joe a run-pass option. He chose to throw. It was just something to keep them off balance a little bit.”

Ball control offense and a suffocating run defense was the formula for success for Thomas Jefferson, as the game remained 20-0 until just over three minutes remained, when Lippincott scored his second touchdown on a 5-yard run to make the final score 27-0.

TJ’s offensive line was dominating, and it led to a three-pronged rushing attack. Murga finished with 64 yards on the ground, Lippincott added 50 yards to go with his two touchdowns and Lekse added a game-high 65 yards with one score. The senior also completed 4-of-8 passes for 144-yards and one touchdown.

“When you have more than one guy, you can keep everybody fresh, and that’s the key,” Cherpak said. “With that and the offensive line, that’s a tough combination to play against.”

Cherpak thinks his quarterback Lekse is settling into the position after two games.

“He definitely has (settled in) and he’s a gamer too,” he said. “He’s just becoming one of those kids who shows up in the big moments and makes plays.”

Thomas Jefferson’s ground game also produced a distinct time-of-possession advantage, as the Jaguars held the ball for 34:49, compared to just 13:11 for the Lions.

Defensively, the Jaguars sacked Landon Lutz three times, two by Murga, and held South Fayette to minus-15 yards on the ground, a week after holding Gateway to negative-16 yards rushing.

“By keeping the quarterback off balance in terms of being in his face, and not giving him time, that changes everything,” Cherpak said.

Lutz did complete 10-of-23 passes for 122 yards in the loss for South Fayette, which fell to 2-1.

Thomas Jefferson, the No. 1 ranked team in Class 4A, improved to 2-0. The Jaguars will host Trinity to begin Big Eight conference play next week.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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