Thomas Jefferson ends regular season by beating McKeesport

Saturday, October 29, 2022 | 12:06 AM

Thomas Jefferson has been a completely different football team over the past few weeks, and it capped off that turnaround by traveling to McKeesport and handing it its first loss in a 20-10 Big 7 Conference matchup Friday night.

“Since that loss at Laurel Highlands, we’ve totally regrouped and concentrated on the little things,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “Our defense played unbelievable tonight. Everybody made plays, and we forced some turnovers tonight at key times. We just hung in there and kept coming back, and it made for a full team effort.”

The Jaguars (7-3, 5-1) finished the regular season with four straight wins after the loss at Laurel Highlands left them at 3-3, and they have not lost a game in the month of October as they look to play into November and December in WPIAL and PIAA playoffs.

Their opponents also have those aspirations, but this was really the first time all season the Tigers (9-1, 5-1) faced any opposition to their potent triple option.

“They really pinned us down,” McKeesport coach Matt Miller said. “We were back in our own end the whole second half, and you can’t run many things when you’re up against the end zone. They made it hard for us to block them because of how quick and physical they were.”

The Jaguars were led by their big playmakers in the massive victory.

The Tigers struggled to block Jordan Mayer as he had several tackles for loss and, more importantly, two fumble recoveries including one in the end zone for a touchdown.

On the other side of the ball, Sean Sullivan had a huge performance with four receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Brody Evans finished 12 of 22 for 176 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions.

“We talked about who was going to step up because this was a huge game,” Cherpak said. “We expect that out of Jordan, quite honestly. But with Sean, he has that ability, we just need to see it more often. I think he was finally like, ‘I have to do something,’ and it was amazing.”

The Tigers never had much momentum offensively and were blanked in the second half.

After an early 62-yard touchdown run from quarterback Jahmil Perryman, he was unable to find much more success, finishing with 137 rushing yards and two fumbles on 17 carries, including several for no gain. Bobbie Boyd Jr. had both picks for McKeesport defensively, but he also was bottled up on the ground as he posted 44 yards on 11 carries.

Perryman’s 62-yard touchdown run came just less than two minutes into the game to open the scoring as it looked to be business as usual for the Tigers. With a Milton Campos extra point, the score was 7-0 with 10:17 remaining in the first quarter.

After a few possessions, the Jaguars responded with one of two huge touchdown passes from Evans to Sullivan. The junior receiver posted 58 receiving yards on the drive and capped it off with a 32-yard touchdown reception with 1:53 remaining in the opening quarter. However, Andrew Graham was unable to add the point after, so the Jaguars were still trailing 7-6.

The second quarter was a dogfight between the squads as neither would surrender points until the end of the half. A six-and-a-half minute McKeesport drive ended the quarter as it had to settle for three points from a 19-yard Campos field goal with 0.7 seconds remaining in the half. This gave the Tigers a 10-6 advantage going into the halftime break.

However, it took TJ just 50 seconds in the second half to take the lead through the Evans-to-Sullivan connection once again. This time, Sullivan beat his man and a high safety to grab a 75-yard score. Graham made the extra point this time, pushing the Jaguars to a 13-10 lead.

The third quarter saw no more scoring, but there were several chances for TJ to add to its lead.

Perryman lost two fumbles in the third quarter, with Mayer recovering the first and Lippincott recovering the second. The first recovery saw Mayer rumble his way to the McKeesport 24-yard line, which set his squad up with a chance to score. However, two plays later with 6:55 remaining in the quarter, Lippincott fumbled possession away to Perryman deep in McKeesport territory.

The turnovers continued as Perryman proceeded to fumble possession back to Lippincott and the Jaguars with 5:32 left in the third, but McKeesport made a stand on fourth-and-goal and forced a turnover on downs to get possession back.

That wasn’t the last turnover of the quarter, however, as Boyd picked off Evans and returned it to his own 49-yard line as the quarter expired. This set his squad up for a potential game-changing drive going into the fourth quarter down three points, but it failed to take advantage.

After more back-and-forth action without scoring in the fourth quarter, Mayer stepped up and showed everyone why he’s committed to play Big 10 football at Wisconsin.

His squad once again was stifled on fourth-and-goal, but this time at the goal line, giving the home team and its crowd plenty of momentum. However, the very next play, Perryman spilled the ball in the end zone, and it was Mayer who fell on it to put the finishing touches on the Jaguars’ victory with 4:37 remaining in the game. The extra point capped the scoring.

Now, both teams look ahead to their playoff matchups with high hopes heading into the postseason.

“It’s time to step up now,” Cherpak said. “If we keep playing hard and keep our mistakes to a minimum, the sky’s the limit.”

On the other side, Miller wasn’t too dejected as he looks to keep a positive season going.

“I think the kids rallied around each other, which was a big deal,” Miller said. “They handled the loss well, which is what you want to see, so there was some positivity, and right now you just have to get back to work on Monday.”

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