Trib HSSN Player of the Week: Eli Jochem, Pine-Richland

Sunday, November 29, 2020 | 8:08 PM

Pine-Richland has had great contributions from many players in finishing 11-0 and capturing district and state championships for the second time in school history.

When it came to the Rams’ high-powered passing attack, they had a dynamic duo. If last week’s HSSN Player of the Week, senior quarterback Cole Spencer is Batman, then wide receiver Eli Jochem is Robin, the boy wonder. Jochem left many defenses wondering how they could slow him down because very few succeeded in 2020.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior who is undecided on his college choice was the only WPIAL receiver to break 1,000 yards in receptions, finishing with 64 catches for 1,271 yards and 19 touchdowns.

“The most impressive thing about Eli’s season was how no matter what game, no matter how big the stage, when we needed a play on offense, Eli made it,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “Plain and simple, Eli is a play-maker.”

In the WPIAL finals, Jochem had eight receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown in a 35-0 victory over Peters Township. In the Rams’ toughest game of the year in the PIAA semifinals, Jochem came up large again. He had seven catches for 128 yards and two long touchdowns that helped Pine-Richland come from way behind to defeat Governor Mifflin, 48-44.

“Eli Has tremendous speed, power and quickness,” Kasperowicz said. “All of those things for a wide receiver equate into someone that is tough to tackle and bring down on first contact.”

Then, on Friday, Jochem was a major factor again as Pine-Richland jumped out early and cruised past Cathedral Prep in the PIAA Class 5A title game. Jochem finished with seven catches for 162 yards and a touchdown on an 86-yard hook-up with Spencer.

“Eli was just being Eli,” Kasperowicz said. “Prep was doing some good things on defense against us, and it took us a while to figure them out. Eli was the guy that made the big catches early to get us started and then really exploding there in the second quarter.”

Every team knew how good the combination of Spencer to Jochem was, yet little was done to contain them. What made them so good together?

“That’s easy: It is their friendship that they have built over the course of about 10 years,” Kasperowicz said. “They’ve been playing together and throwing with one another since they were kids. They have an innate sense of trust of each other and what they’re going to do next.

“They also work really hard at it. It’s not something that just happened. There were countless hours of running routes and throwing passes to develop what they currently have.”

Some Ivy League and Patriot League teams have shown interest in Jochem. Wherever Jochem decides to go, Kasperowicz feels that school will be getting a steal.

“I’m not sure I’ve seen many people be able to explode and jump like Eli can at the high school level. He is also extremely quick and has great top-end speed, which is a huge asset for any receiver. Plus, it is taken for granted that receivers are supposed to catch the football. I can count the number of drops Eli had with a few fingers. He’s very sure-handed.”

For now though, Jochem and his teammates can bask in a rare double championship that was cap of a perfect season during a unique period of time.

“It feels incredible,” Kasperowicz said. “Anytime you can end the year with a win in the state championship, it is incredible regardless of the year. I’m so proud of this group of seniors and this entire football team, program and community for all rallying together in the hopes of one common goal.”

WPIAL Week 12 Honorable Mentions

Connor Murga, Thomas Jefferson

For most of the season, the Thomas Jefferson offense has centered on the passing of senior quarterback Jake Pugh and a running game by committee with Murga and DeRon VanBibber leading the group. While Pugh is still chucking it and VanBibber is running it, Murga has emerged as the workhorse in a pair of Jaguars victories that earned the program a district record fifth state crown. After rushing for 144 yards and three touchdowns in a blowout win of Oil City, Murga ran for 114 yards on 24 grinding carries and scored the opening touchdown in a 21-14 victory over previously undefeated Jersey Shore.

Ameer Dudley, Central Valley

While it was another strong performance by junior running back Landon Alexander (120 yards rushing and a pair of touchdown runs), this Central Valley tip of the cap goes to the straw that has stirred the drink of three championships in two years. Senior quarterback Ameer Dudley connected on 5 of 11 passes for 93 yards and ran for 61 yards on nine carries to lead the Warriors to the school’s first PIAA championship. Central Valley knocked off Wyomissing, 35-21, on Friday, capping Dudley’s and the other Warriors seniors’ two WPIAL and one PIAA championship in the last two seasons.

Roberto Smith, Jeannette

It didn’t end the way many Jeannette fans wanted it to, but big time kudos go to the team’s leading rusher who, because of an injury, almost became their golden passer. Roberto Smith Jr. led the team in rushing this championship season with 792 yards. The bad news for the Jayhawks is he also led them in rushing in the PIAA title game against Steelton-Highspire with only 12 yards. So Jeannette relied on the arm of the running back-turned-quarterback after the season- ending injury to Brad Birch in the district title game. Smith threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns and scored on a 4-yard run as the Jayhawks fell to the Steamrollers, 32-20.

2020 HSSN Players of the Week

Week 11: Cole Spencer, Pine-Richland

Week 10: Landon Alexander, Central Valley

Week 9: Josh Hough, Beaver Falls

Week 8: Logan Harmon, Apollo-Ridge

Week 7: Dontae Sanders, Clairton

Week 6: Ethan Dahlem, Upper St. Clair

Week 5: Jaedan Zuzak, California

Week 4: RaShawn Reid, Rochester

Week 3: Ryan Hubner, Plum

Week 2: Logan Shrubb, Keystone Oaks

Week 1: Devin Whitlock, Belle Vernon


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