T.J., Central leave no doubt
HERSHEY — There was an air of dominance at these PIAA football championships, where one record-setting game followed another.
On a weekend where the mercy rule was invoked in three of the four finals, Rochester lost but Central Catholic and Thomas Jefferson left no doubt that they were the state’s premier teams in Class AAAA and AAA, respectively.
Central, ranked No. 6 nationally by USA Today, put on a defensive display in thumping Neshaminy, 49-14, Saturday in the Quad-A final after Thomas Jefferson set a AAA record for points scored in a 56-20 win over defending champion Manheim Central on Friday night.
“We wanted to represent Western Pennsylvania and the WPIAL,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. “That was really important to us. They sent us here to be their representative. The kids wanted to make a statement.”
None made statements quite like Central senior tailback Eugene Jarvis and Thomas Jefferson senior quarterback-cornerback Brad Dawson, who finished their careers with memorable performances at Hersheypark Stadium.
Jarvis rushed for 192 yards and tied a PIAA finals record with five touchdowns, scoring on runs of 3, 7, 21 and 35 yards and an 18-yard pass in only three quarters of play.
“It’s a big accomplishment, knowing how hard I work,” Jarvis said. “It didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to come out with a ‘W.’ ”
The 5-foot-6, 165-pound Jarvis, who has scholarship offers from Akron, Bowling Green and Kent State, ran for 2,196 yards and 35 touchdowns this season and finished his career as one of only five WPIAL Quad-A backs with 4,000 career yards (4,375).
“Eugene’s an underrated, exceptional athlete,” Central senior quarterback Shane Murray said. “In all honesty, he should have offers pouring in after this game.”
Dawson completed 11-of-16 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns (15 and 17 yards), rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown (7 yards) and scored on a 79-yard interception return to put the finishing touches on Manheim Central.
The Jaguars also set a PIAA record with six interceptions, which netted 215 return yards, only 34 less than Neshaminy quarterback Tyler Reifsnyder passed for.
“You saw the quarterback,” Manheim Central coach Mike Williams said of Dawson. “He’s the best athlete on the field.”
After playing receiver the past three years, Dawson took over at quarterback this season and passed for 2,253 yards to lead the Jaguars to their first WPIAL crown in 24 years and their first-ever PIAA championship.
“It was the absolute perfect way for him to end his high school career,” Cherpak said. “He came off the field and said, ‘I’m done.’ ”
Added Dawson: “It’s a great way to end your career.”
Lansdale Catholic running back R.C. Lagomarsino set a PIAA finals rushing record with 353 yards on 31 carries, scoring four times in a 40-17 win over Grove City in the Class AA championship. Lagomarsino broke the record of 251, set by Parkland’s Austin Scott in 2002, by 102 yards.
And Southern Columbia topped Rochester, 35-0, in the Class A final to join Central Bucks West (1997-99) and Berwick (1994-97 as one of three teams to win three consecutive PIAA titles.
It was the fifth time in seven years that Rochester and Southern Columbia met in the Class A final, and the Tigers won for the second time in three years. Rochester had won the previous three meetings (1998, 2000 and 2001).
“We’ve got two exceptional programs,” Rochester coach Gene Matsook said. “They’ve got one up on us. It’s 3-2, so we’ve got a best-of-seven.”
Thomas Jefferson could be back, considering the Jaguars return junior linebackers Jason Kolodziej and Nate Nix, as well as talented sophomores in tailback Dan Giegerich, defensive end Chris Drager and cornerback Dom DeCicco, who is expected to play quarterback next season.
“You have to have breaks along the way,” said Cherpak, whose team won three playoff games with fourth-quarter comebacks. “You want to establish the type of program where you’re back here every year, win or lose.”
Central’s first-team defense turned in a dominant performance, limiting Neshaminy to 1 yards on 23 offensive plays before being pulled with 54 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Vikings became the first team in state history to win 16 games, went undefeated for the first time in 40 years and became the first WPIAL Quad-A team to win a PIAA title since Penn Hills in 1995.
“We never said we’re going to carry the burden,” Central coach Art Walker Jr. said. “We wanted to bring respect back to the WPIAL and we’re glad it’s us.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review sports columnist. You can contact Kevin by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .