Thomas Jefferson finally clears Cathedral Prep hurdle

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Friday, November 22, 2019 | 11:25 PM


The referee held his hands only a few inches apart.

Facing fourth and inches at its own 40, that was the distance Thomas Jefferson needed for a first down late in Friday night’s fourth quarter. It also represented just how close the Jaguars were to finally defeating three-time defending state champion Erie Cathedral Prep.

“There was no way we were punting, I can tell you that,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said.

The Jaguars converted on Shane Stump’s quarterback sneak, a short gain that eventually led to a game-clinching touchdown as the WPIAL champion defeated Cathedral Prep, 28-13, in a PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal at Martorelli Stadium.

Thomas Jefferson had endured season-ending losses to Cathedral Prep in 2017, ’16 and ’15.

“I don’t care if it was on our own 10, we would have gone for it,” Cherpak said. “That’s where we were (mentally). We weren’t coming here to do anything but win.”

The strength of TJ’s dominant offensive line made that QB sneak a much easier call. The Jaguars went 7 for 11 on third-down conversions and 2 for 3 on fourth.

“There was nothing to really think about at all,” Cherpak said. “I was on the phones with my offensive coordinator and he said, ‘We’re here to win. We’re not here for a tie. We’re here to win.’ And the kids said the same thing.”

Stump’s late conversion came with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left and TJ leading 21-13. He followed the block of center Nicholas Trainor and gained three yards.

“I don’t know how we were going to stop it,” Cathedral Prep coach Mike Mischler said. “If I had those five monstrosities up front, I probably would have done the same thing. They’ve got confidence.”

Thomas Jefferson (14-0) advances to play Lampeter-Strasburg (11-3) in the state semifinals next week. Lampeter-Strasburg defeated Berks Catholic, 35-21, Friday in the District 3 championship.

The Jaguars are in the semifinals for the first time since winning the state title in 2008. To get there, though, they had to clear their District 10 roadblock.

“They’re such a great program,” Cherpak said. “Three-time defending state champ, that says a lot right there. I think the kids just felt like this was a different year.”

Thomas Jefferson played power football behind tackles Michael Huber (6-foot, 270) and Mac Duda (6-4, 275), guards Jacob Krawczyk (6-4, 260) and Logan Danielson (6-1, 265) and center Trainor (6-0, 210), a junior. They flexed their muscles on the game’s first possession, a 15-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that lasted nearly 7 minutes.

“Our guys battled in there and did everything they possibly could,” Mischler said. “That’s the main thing we were worried about.”

TJ running back Dylan Mallozzi rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. He scored a 1-yard touchdown on the team’s first possession and added a 33-yarder on its last.

The Jaguars had trailed 10-7 before leading 14-10 at half and 21-13 in the third quarter. They scored on three consecutive possessions sandwiched around halftime.

“We wanted to lean on our line,” Cherpak said. “Our line has been great all year. They’ve been physical and we had a size advantage on them. They came through again.”

Asked if this was one of his all-time best offensive lines, Cherpak said: “I’ll tell you in a couple of weeks.”

Three of TJ’s four touchdown drives lasted nine plays or more. A 13-play, 60-yard drive in the second half stretched from the third quarter into the fourth and ended with a 1-yard dive by Stump.

The Jaguars held possession for six and a half minutes.

“Teams make us sustain drives because they think we’re a big-play offense,” Stump said. “We can hold some pretty long drives. … We can pound the ball on teams.”

Stump also completed 9 of 14 pass attempts for 108 yards and threw a 9-yard touchdown to Dan Deabner in the third.

Prep quarterback Tamar Sample rushed for 108 yards on 22 carries. The Ramblers offense produced two field goals and a touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Sample to Jaelen Carson.

Thomas Jefferson led 7-0 on Mallozzi’s 1-yard touchdown run but Cathedral Prep scored the next 10 points. Mallozzi had 17 carries and 72 yards in the first half but lost a fumble on the first play of TJ’s second possession.

Cathedral Prep took over near midfield and Sample led the Ramblers 47 yards, mostly on keeper runs. He threw a tying 9-yard touchdown pass to Carson in the final minute of the first quarter. A 27-yard field goal by kicker Cole Constable gave Prep a 10-7 lead late in the second quarter.

The Jaguars answered immediately with a five-play, 65-yard touchdown drive to lead 14-10. Stump threw a 28-yard pass to James Martinis and a 9-yard touchdown to Deabner on consecutive snaps to end the drive.

The first half ended with an interception by TJ’s Ian Hansen deep in Jaguars territory.

Each team had one third-quarter possession and the only points were scored on a 34-yard field goal by Constable. The kick pulled the Ramblers to within a point of TJ, 14-13.

TJ’s third-quarter possession stretched into the fourth. The 13-play, 60-yard drive ended with a 1-yard touchdown dive by Stump. The Jaguars led 20-13 with 10:42 left.

They clinched the win later in the fourth with a nine-play, 72-yard drive and a 33-yard touchdown run by Mallozzi.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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