Central Valley edges Thomas Jefferson in WPIAL semifinals
Much like its quarterback, Central Valley showed its best in the playoffs.
Junior quarterback John George, who became the starter two weeks before the playoffs, rushed for a touchdown, threw a 56-yarder and made a well-tossed lateral for another in Friday night’s 23-13 semifinal victory over Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.
After consecutive losses in the semifinals the past two years, No. 3 Central Valley (11-1) advances to Heinz Field for the first time since its 2010 championship season. A rematch with Parkway Conference rival No. 1 West Allegheny (12-0) awaits Central Valley in the WPIAL championship game next Saturday.
George, who completed 9 of 12 passes for 146 yards, threw a 56-yard touchdown to B.J. Powell in the third quarter.
“I have faith in him with anything we do,” said junior Jordan Whitehead, whose 15-yard touchdown run gave Central Valley a 7-0 lead. “(Injured teammate) Nate (Climo) is a great quarterback, but I know what (George) can do.”
George also became the starter in last year’s playoffs when Climo was sidelined with a neck injury. Climo has been out with a shoulder injury.
“Totally different team (when George plays),” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. “That’s the reason they’re going on, I think. … He makes everything happen for them.”
This was the second time in four seasons that Central Valley eliminated higher-seeded Thomas Jefferson in the semifinals. In 2010, Central Valley won, 42-24, en route to winning the WPIAL title as a first-year program.
No. 2 Thomas Jefferson (11-1) was trying to reach its first championship since 2008. But the Jaguars, the highest-scoring team in Class AAA, crossed the 20-yard line of Central Valley four times but scored only twice. A missed 25-yard field goal ended one drive, and a failed fourth-and-four 10 yards from the end zone ended another.
TJ senior Chase Winovich rushed 32 times for 139 yards and a touchdown.
“Our defense won us this game,” George said. “They held a good TJ team to only 13 points. … It was a really big team effort.”
With two quick first-quarter touchdowns, Central Valley controlled the first quarter much the way Thomas Jefferson often had this season. TJ had outscored its first 11 opponents, 133-7, in the first quarter.
Central Valley built a 14-0 lead with touchdown runs by Whitehead and George, who scored on consecutive first-quarter possessions. Excellent field position aided both scores. One drive covered 15 yards in one play, a long run by Whitehead. The other touchdown drive covered 30 yards in five plays, leading to George’s 1-yard run.
A 25-yard punt return by Whitehead from the 40-yard line and a fumble by TJ quarterback Christian Breisinger provided CV with great field position. Breisinger was sacked by CV’s Connar McKay and Cedric Askerneese recovered the fumble at TJ’s 30-yard line.
“The key to the whole game was the field position in the first quarter and them getting two relatively easy scores,” Cherpak said.
With just 58 offensive yards, Central Valley held a two-touchdown lead. Thomas Jefferson’s first three drives produced two punts, a fumble and just two first downs.
The Jaguars leaned heavily on Winovich, who carried on seven of their first 10 plays. His runs gained just 28 yards, but the Jaguars stuck with their Michigan-bound senior. He carried on 17 of their 24 first-half plays, including a 5-yard touchdown run with 1:57 left before halftime.
The 11-play, 58-yard touchdown drive included eight runs by Winovich. But it was the only first-half possession that reached the end zone.
Fullback Austin Boyd had a 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth.
“They knew we weren’t going to throw,” Cherpak said. “They knew we couldn’t throw.”