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Peters Township’s conference title bid goes through TJ

The banners hanging at Peters Township to commemorate conference championships serve as a solemn reminder for its football program.

It includes only one year, and none of the Indians’ current players were born at that time. For nearly three decades, Peters Township has endured one autumn of football folly after another.

“We look at the other sports and see the years they won the section title, and football only says 1975,” senior quarterback Jim Gallagher said. “We look at that from time to time to remind us of what we’re up against.”

No. 5 Peters Township (4-0, 1-0) visits top-ranked Thomas Jefferson (4-0, 2-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a WPIAL Class AAA game that will likely decide the eventual Keystone Conference champion.

The Jaguars have won the past three conference crowns and are seeking to make it four in a row, but a league title is just one step in their path to Heinz Field. After reaching the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals six of the past seven years, TJ is hoping that this will be the year to end its semi-tough reputation.

“I’m sure we do have different goals than 95 percent of the WPIAL, but the first goal is to win the conference,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “It’s a good game to measure where we are. They’re the biggest threat in the conference this year, simply because they have an impact player.”

That would be Gallagher, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound Duke baseball recruit who is also one of the WPIAL’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. He passed for 1,101 yards, rushed for 637 and accounted for 13 touchdowns last season, when he led the Indians to a 4-6 record and a WPIAL playoff berth.

“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Peters Township coach Keith Hartbauer said. “He’s very gifted. He has great arm strength. He’s got good feet. He’s very elusive. He can make a lot of plays.”

Gallagher has completed 58 percent of his passes for 526 yards and is coming off a 24-3 victory over Chartiers Valley where he rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s a lot like Tyler Palko in the sense that he can hurt you just as much running as he can passing,” Cherpak said. “He means as much to their team as Ty did to West (Allegheny).”

As much as Gallagher means to Peters Township, he believes the third-year coach Hartbauer deserves the credit. Hartbauer arrived as an outsider but overcame the team’s history, as well as a faction that supported fired coach Garry Cathell, to turn around the Indians.

At Hamilton (N.J) West High, Hartbauer’s teams won six consecutive conference titles in his seven seasons. A Baldwin native who attended Somerset High and Slippery Rock University, Hartbauer returned to Western Pennsylvania and took over a struggling program in a prosperous place.

“I think the biggest thing was changing the attitude about Peters Township football in the community,” Gallagher said. “He’s had to earn his stripes, but he’s the main reason we’re competing.”

Yet, Hartbauer initially drew criticism for starting 11 sophomores against Quad-A competition his first season. He did so with good reason. Those players, who now form the team’s nucleus, were undefeated in 16 games in the eighth and ninth grades.

One of the victories was a 40-0 blowout of TJ’s freshman team. It’s a loss the Jaguars haven’t forgotten and a prime reason why they aren’t overlooking this game or their opponent, going so far as to post signs of “40-0” around the school.

“What fuels a lot of us is what they did to us our freshman year,” TJ senior quarterback/linebacker Peter Winovich said. “We didn’t like that. Everybody is focused.”

Never mind that TJ handed Peters Township a 48-7 loss last season, when it rolled to an 11-0 start before losing to eventual WPIAL and PIAA champion Hopewell. Dennis Squeglia is the Indians’ new defensive coordinator, and Peters Township has allowed only 26 points in four games this season.

The Jaguars are once again putting up big numbers, this time with a passing game led by Winovich. The 6-3, 225-pounder is second in the WPIAL with 945 passing yards and nine touchdowns and has a top target in senior Tom McCafferty, who has 23 catches for 490 yards and five touchdowns.

Cherpak has been especially demanding of Winovich, a three-year starter on both sides of the ball, believing that strong leadership from him is necessary if the Jaguars are going to win a title.

“He’s been trying to knock me down and build me back up,” Winovich said. “It’s been tough. I think he wants me to be the person everyone looks to.”

While Cherpak believes the passing statistics are a product of TJ’s pro-style offense, he points to Winovich’s 22-4 career record as to what separates him from previous passers.

“The best thing about Pete at quarterback is we win when he plays — and that’s all that matters,” Cherpak said. “Winning is all that matters.”

That is a lesson Peters Township is quickly learning. The Indians will get their first real test against Thomas Jefferson in what could be a benchmark game for their program.

“This is one of the biggest games in school history,” Gallagher said. “We’re on the right path to making something happen this year. We plan on proving how good of a team we are on Friday night.”

GAME OF THE WEEK


NO. 5 PETERS TOWNSHIP (4-0, 1-0) AT NO. 1 THOMAS JEFFERSON (4-0, 2-0)

When: 7:30 P.M., FRIDAY

Where: JAGUAR STADIUM

Key matchups


Skill players: Peters Township QB Jim Gallagher is equally dangerous passing or running and has targets TE Doug Fife (6-5, 240) and speedy WR Shane Sullivan. RB Joe Kurnal is a change-of-pace back. TJ QB Peter Winovich is one of the WPIAL’s passing leaders and has talented WRs Tom McCafferty, Brad Dawson, Aaron Archibald and Adam Plantz. RB Ryan Hicks has rushed for 300-plus yards in the past two games.

Advantage: Even

Offensive line: The Indians are young up front, with seniors C Ryan McNamara and RT Jeff Snyder, juniors LG Tyler Hajzus and LT Mike Berquist and sophomore RG Mike Morante. The Jaguars have four seniors but only one returning starter, C Tim Donahue. TJ has a size and strength advantage with Gs Jason Kolodziej (6-0, 230) and Nick Matty (5-11, 232) and Ts Matt McCall (6-4, 242) and Mark Yocco (5-11, 244).

Advantage: Thomas Jefferson

Defense: Peters Township is improved under new defensive coordinator Dennis Squeglia. Led by LB David Morante (eight sacks) and FS Evan Sullivan (three INTs), the Indians have allowed only 26 points in four games. TJ is getting great play from DE Martin Hieber and ILB Kolodziej and hasn’t allowed more than one TD in any game this season.

Advantage: TJ

Prediction: Thomas Jefferson 28, Peters Township 21

Game of the Week breakdown

Game info.: 7:30 p.m., Friday at TJ

Last year: Thomas Jefferson 48, Peters Township 7

Keys to the game: After rolling to a 41-point blowout last season, Thomas Jefferson can’t overlook Peters Township this year. The Indians are much improved defensively and have one of the WPIAL’s most talented dual-threat QBs in Jim Gallagher, who rushed for 117 yards against Chartiers Valley last week. TJ must keep him contained on the outside or risk allowing him to dictate the pace. Peters Township can’t allow TJ QB Peter Winovich time to throw to his WRs, especially Tom McCafferty, who runs crisp routes and uses his speed to get behind the secondary.

Notable: Peters Township won its only conference championship in 1975. The Indians have 11 seniors who are three-year starters, and their class went undefeated in the eighth and ninth grades. After allowing 105 points in the first four games last year, Peters has given up only 26 this season. … Thomas Jefferson has reached the WPIAL semifinals six times in the past seven years, but hasn’t advanced to the finals since 1980. The Jaguars have won the Keystone Conference the past three seasons. TJ is averaging 40 ppg.


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