Thomas Jefferson to meet gutsy Lampeter-Strasburg squad in state semifinals

Wednesday, November 27, 2019 | 6:00 PM

Thomas Jefferson is ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 4A with a glittering 14-0 record.

The Jaguars cleared a formidable hurdle last week in a thrilling 28-13 quarterfinal win against Cathedral Prep.

Lampeter-Strasburg (11-3) climbed from No. 8 to No. 4 in this week’s PIAA rankings after socking Berks Catholic, 35-21, last week.

TJ and LS will clash in the PIAA Class 4A semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday at Holidaysburg High School. It is a rare afternoon playoff game for both teams, who’ve never met in football.

“TJ is the best team we’ve faced this year, and we’ve seen some really good ones,” LS coach John Manion said. “They have size on both lines, speed and talent at all skill positions, and are physical in all phases of the game. It will be a tough challenge for our team.”

LS and Berks Catholic were tied at 21-21 after three quarters last week before the Pioneers racked up 14 fourth-quarter points.

LS staged a dramatic rally in winning its first-round matchup with Bishop McDevitt, 30-27. The Pioneers trailed 20-0 at halftime, erupted for 23 points in the third quarter and ended up winning, 30-27.

“They do a lot of things on offense to cause confusion for the defense,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “Formations, shifting, motion on every play makes it very difficult on the defense. We will have to be very focused to make sure we are not out of position or have blown coverages.”

This season, Thomas Jefferson won its fourth WPIAL title in five years, then marched past Cathedral Prep in a gutsy team effort.

The Jaguars held a 14-10 halftime advantage. Prep tacked on a third-quarter field goal to close the gap to 14-13. TJ responded with 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

“That game was one of the most exciting and intense games we have ever had. Every play mattered,” Cherpak said. “I was so proud of how our kids played in all three facets. The defense was great, only allowing one touchdown. I never would have thought that was possible with all the explosive skill players they have.

“Our offense was dominant again with the offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage. Dylan Mallozzi ran the ball very well. Shane (Stump) and the receivers made big plays in the passing game when we needed them. Finally, our special teams were great, especially kickoff.

“We were very concerned about special teams all week and worked very hard on them. It was a total team effort in the victory. They are a great team, and to beat them is a huge accomplishment. Many people have told me it was one of the best high school football games they have ever seen.”

LS has displayed exceptional resilience, unselfishness on offense, aggressiveness on defense and outstanding team speed.

“We are a team that has willed itself to this position by playing complete team football, causing turnovers and playing fast,” Manion said. “We’ve overcome season-ending injuries to our quarterback and guard, as well as faced tough competition in the playoffs without our starting fullback and inside linebacker.

“We are peaking at the right time.”

Manion received no argument from Cherpak, the Jaguars’ longtime field boss.

“They are playing their best football at the right time of the year,” Cherpak said. “They upset two quality teams in winning their district championship.”

Lampeter-Strasburg, located in Lancaster, competes in Section 2 of the Lancaster-Lebanon League and is the reigning District 3 champion. A notable alumnus is Steelers offensive lineman Matt Feiler.

The Pioneers opened the year with five impressive wins in a row followed by back-to-back losses to District 3’s Hempfield and Manheim Central. They currently are riding a four-game winning streak.

LS, like TJ, is highly prolific offensively, averaging 35.1 ppg. The Jaguars score at a 46.4 ppg clip.

LS has accrued 5,243 total offensive yards this season including 3,245 on the ground. The Pioneers average 374.5 offensive yards per game.

One of the team’s linchpins is senior fullback Bryan McKim with 1,204 yards and 16 touchdowns. McKim averages 8.2 yards per carry.

He is complemented by junior wingbacks Alex Knapp (78-709) and Owen Fikkert (54-222) with 931 yards and 11 TDs between them.

Junior quarterback Conner Nolt has passed for 1,709 yards and 17 touchdowns, hitting on 91 of 192 attempts with four interceptions.

Two of Nolt’s top targets are junior receiver Austin Stoltzfus, with 27 receptions, 629 yards and six TDs, and Knapp, with 25 receptions, 412 yards and three TDs.

Others to watch in the LS receiving corps include sophomore tight end Beau Heyser (19-339), senior tight end Jacob Kopelman (13-180) and junior receiver Ian Herr (10-228).

TJ’s leading skill-position players consist of seniors Shane Stump at quarterback, Dylan Mallozzi at running back and Dan Deabner at wideout, along with junior receivers Ian Hansen and Preston Zandier.

Stump has thrown for 2,377 yards and 32 scores with just one interception, completing 116 of 205 passes this season.

Deabner (43 catches, 940 yards and 18 TDs), Hansen (31-656, seven TDs) and Zandier (23-454, four TDs) have accounted for 97 receptions, 2,050 yards and 29 touchdowns between them. All three average around 20 yards per reception.

In the rushing department, Mallozzi has picked up 1,537 yards and 25 touchdowns on 177 carries, an average of 8.7 yards per attempt.

Stump has added 502 yards and nine scores on 59 carries (8.5 ypc).

TJ averages 419.4 offensive yards per contest.

Defensively, TJ has a stunning 4.3 ppg average with six shutouts. LS allows 16.9 ppg.

“We are where we want to be and have a great opportunity again this week,” Cherpak said. “The kids have been great all year working and preparing for every game. It has been one of the most enjoyable years of coaching for me ever. Can’t wait for Friday.”

A neat sidebar to the game is the fact that LS’s veteran coach has roots in the area. Manion is originally from Charleroi.

“I have friends that live in Jefferson Hills and family all over Pittsburgh,” Manion said. “It’s the first time I’ve had the opportunity to coach my own team in Western Pennsylvania.”

TJ and LS almost faced off on the gridiron 12 years ago.

“We were about two minutes from playing (TJ) in 2007 when they played Garnet Valley in the state finals,” Manion said. “We fumbled with less than two minutes in the (PIAA semifinal) game going for the winning score. Garnet Valley then converted a long third-down play into a touchdown to advance.”

The winner of Friday’s matinee will play the winner of the Dallas-Jersey Shore game at 7 p.m. Dec. 5 in the PIAA finals at Hersheypark Stadium.


More Football

Belle Vernon seniors celebrate back-to-back WPIAL, PIAA football titles
Ligonier Valley, Latrobe, Jeannette coaches eager for East/West All-Star game
Leechburg coach Randy Walters selected to coaching staff for U.S. Tackle National Team
Top Western Pa. quarterbacks set to show skills at 4th Willie Thrower camp
WPIAL to hold eligibility hearing for Aliquippa football transfer Jamar Allen