TJ Storms Past New Castle to Repeat as WPIAL Champs

Friday, November 18, 2016 | 10:11 PM

For many teams across the district, winning a WPIAL Championship seems like a giant mountain to climb. For Thomas Jefferson, that mountain feels more like a hill.

Quinton Hill, that is.

Hill rushed for 248 yards on 39 carries and scored three touchdowns for the Jaguars as they rolled to a 42-0 victory over New Castle in the WPIAL Class 4A Championship Game at Heinz Field.

The Jaguars repeat as WPIAL champions, winning in the Class AAA title clash last season also with a convincing shutout.

After their semifinal victory last week, coach Bill Cherpak said his Thomas Jefferson squad was “going home” to Heinz Field. Maybe the Rooney family should charge rent to Coach Cherpak, as his Jaguars have won six WPIAL titles at Heinz Field since 2004.

However, New Castle came into TJ’s “home away from home” and was an unpleasant house guest in the early stages. After each team traded three-and-outs on their first possession, New Castle’s Devin Sams blocked a punt. The ‘Canes recovered deep in the red zone at the Thomas Jefferson six-yard line.

The Jaguar defense was up to the challenge, backed up against the shadow of its own goalpost. Zane Zandier picked off a Geno Stone pass at the goal line to end the threat.

It proved to be the best chance for the ‘Canes all night. Thomas Jefferson’s stout defense took over the rest of the way, allowing only 63 total yards of offense to a New Castle team that had scored 89 total points in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Jaguars also forced three Geno Stone interceptions and held the ‘Canes to 1 of 10 on third down.

Both teams traded punts back and forth in a scoreless first quarter. After pinning the ‘Canes deep and forcing a three-and-out, Thomas Jefferson took over at the New Castle 25-yard line. Three runs from Quinton Hill later, and the Jaguars were on the board with a 7-0 lead.

The big momentum swing came late in the second quarter. New Castle took over on its own 30-yard line after a TJ punt with 1:01 left in the half. Noah Palmer got his paws on a screen pass, batted it in the air, snagged it, and took it 20 yards the other way for a touchdown. The pick six doubled the TJ lead 14-0 going into the break.

After that, “Quinton Hill on the carry” became the common verbiage over the PA system at Heinz Field. Hill ran the ball on 13 of the first 15 plays of the second half, including a pair of two-yard scores to extend the lead to 28-0.

Zandier caught a four-yard touchdown pass from Bobby Kelley to send the game to the mercy rule.  Backup QB Shane Stump also scored on a 17-yard scamper to round out the scoring for Thomas Jefferson.

New Castle’s magical run through the Class 4A playoffs comes to a screeching halt. The ‘Canes (8-5) were able to avenge earlier losses to South Fayette and Ringgold to make it to Heinz Field, but could not muster anything against Thomas Jefferson’s incredibly talented defense.

As the Light-Up Night fireworks went off over downtown Pittsburgh, the Jaguars offense provided some fireworks of its  own on the North Shore. The Thomas Jefferson offense racked up 384 yards of total offense, 326 on the ground. Jaguar QB Bobby Kelley only attempted five passes in the game for 45 yards and a TD.

Thomas Jefferson (12-0) advances now on the Road to Hershey, entering the PIAA Championships in the quarterfinals. The Jaguars will face Cathedral Prep, a 58-12 victor over University Prep.

Score by Quarter:

New Castle               0   –   0   –   0  –   0   –   0
Thomas Jefferson      0   –  14  –  14  –  14  –  42

Scoring Summary:

1st Quarter:

(No Scoring)

2nd Quarter:

6:34    TJ    Quinton Hill 8 yard run    (Thomas Campbell kick)       7-0

0:57    TJ    Noah Palmer 20 yard interception return    (Campbell kick)     14-0

3rd Quarter:

7:06    TJ    Hill 2 yard run    (Campbell kick)    21-0

3:41    TJ    Hill 2 yard run    (Campbell kick)    28-0

4th Quarter:

8:35    TJ    Zane Zandier 5 yard pass from Bobby Kelley    (Campbell kick)    35-0

1:27    TJ    Shane Stump 17 yard run    (Campbell kick)    42-0

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