Thomas Jefferson claims PIAA victory
ALTOONA — Everywhere you looked, Dom DeCicco seemed to be hanging around.
As he has done all season in Thomas Jefferson’s undefeated march, the 6-foot-3, 206-pound Pitt football recruit had a hand in nearly everything that mattered Saturday night in the Jaguars’ 27-14 victory over Selinsgrove in a PIAA Class AAA playoff game at Mansion Park Stadium.
The two-way star rushed for three touchdowns and passed for another to lead WPIAL champion Thomas Jefferson (14-0) into the semifinals this weekend against General McLane.
Oh, and by the way: DeCicco, the quarterback, rushed for a game-high 165 yards to upstage teammate Brian Baldrige, a sophomore running back who finished with 132 yards, and DeCicco, the defensive back, also stopped Selinsgrove wide receiver Mike Ritter from scoring a touchdown in the third quarter with a vicious hit at the 1.
“He’s a great player, a special player,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said.
In a rematch on the same field of their 2004 state quarterfinal game, where Thomas Jefferson rallied for a 20-14 overtime victory over Selinsgrove en route to its first PIAA football championship, the Jaguars turned back a drive by the Seals on their opening possession at the Thomas Jefferson 5.
DeCicco’s touchdown-saving tackle of Ritter early in the third quarter with Thomas Jefferson leading, 21-7, was as impressive as anything to Selinsgrove coach Bill Scott.
“He’s cocky, but he’s good. I’d take him on our team,” Scott said.
Selinsgrove (13-1), the District 4 champion, entered the game having recorded five shutouts and coming off a 48-14 rout of District 9 Bradford in the first round. The Seals defense was allowing an average of only 152.8 yards per game.
Thomas Jefferson outgained Selinsgrove in total yards, 306-107.
The Jaguars, who survived a rash of second-half penalties, built a 21-7 halftime advantage, scoring twice in the second quarter after jumping to a 7-0 first-quarter lead on a 28-yard run by DeCicco.
DeCicco also had a hand in the Jaguars’ other two first-half scores, firing a 35-yard pass to Chris Drager to make it 14-0 and sneaking into the end zone from the 1.
In between, Selinsgrove scored on a 71-yard touchdown pass from Eric Deckard to Braden Klingler.
After Selinsgrove failed to score on Deckard’s completion to Ritter, the Seals finally closed to 21-14 with 3:40 remaining in the third quarter on an 11-yard touchdown run by Matt Cook.
Moments later, they wasted a chance to tie it by failing to capitalize on Jason Lauver’s fumble recovery at the Thomas Jefferson 43.
“We missed an opportunity on our first drive when we didn’t take it in,” Scott said. “You only get so many opportunities against a good football team.”
Thomas Jefferson’s offense sputtered for much of the second half, and when Selinsgrove crept within a touchdown, the noise from its fans seemed to fluster the Jaguars’ players.
Thomas Jefferson was penalized on three consecutive plays for false starts.
“Towards the end of the game, everyone on the team seemed to be looking for someone to bail us out,” DeCicco said.
Finally, eluding tacklers as he tiptoed down the right sideline, DeCicco’s 64-yard touchdown run out of Thomas Jefferson’s spread offense sealed the victory and sent the Jaguars into the semifinals.
“They had all the momentum in the second half, and they had field possession,” Cherpak said of Selinsgrove. “Our defense stepped up.”
And, as Scott can attest to, so did DeCicco, Baldrige and the rest of the Jaguars offense.
“That,” he said of Thomas Jefferson, “is a heckuva football team.”
Thomas Jefferson 27, Selinsgrove 14
Thomas Jefferson, 7-14-0-6–27
How they scored
TJ: Dom DeCicco 28 run (Mike Pappas kick), 1:29
TJ: Chris Drager 35 pass from DeCicco (Pappas kick), 10:30
S: Braden Klingler 71 pass from Eric Deckard (Tim Walls kick), 10:14
TJ: DeCicco 1 run (Pappas kick), 4:08
S: Matt Cook 11 run (Walls kick), 3:40
TJ: DeCicco 64 run (run failed), 6:24
Rushing: TJ: Dom DeCicco 25-165, Brian Baldrige 24-132, Dan Giegerich 1-9; S, Matt Cook 14-70: Tony Troutman 8-20, Eric Deckard 4-17.
Passing: TJ: DeCicco 4-9-0-75; S: Deckard 9-28-2-157.
Receiving: TJ: Chris Drager 3-54, Trevor Wildman 1-21; S: Braden Klingler 5-105, Mike Ritter 3-30, Troutman 1-22.