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Thomas Jefferson tries to avoid PIAA letdown |

Thomas Jefferson tries to avoid PIAA letdown

Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Thomas Jefferson’s Zane Zandier (23) celebrates his team's 34-21 victory over Franklin Regional in their WPIAL Class AAA semifinal game Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, at Hempfield's Spartan Stadium.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Thomas Jefferson's Quinton Hill dives to the pylon to score next to Central Valley's Terry Woods during the WPIAL Class AAA championship game Saturday, Nov. 28. 2015, at Heinz Field.

Thomas Jefferson’s last road trip was to Heinz Field for the WPIAL finals.

The Jaguars won their sixth WPIAL championship with a 20-7 win Saturday against defending champion Central Valley.

TJ’s next road game — at 7 p.m. Friday — will take place at Veterans Stadium in Erie, as the Jaguars (11-2) will meet Erie Cathedral Prep in a PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal matchup.

The Ramblers (12-1) clipped Conneaut, 42-21, last week at Edinboro University’s Sox Harrison Field to claim the District 10 title.

In a method involving the annual rotation of playing sites between PIAA districts, Friday’s game was assigned to the District 10 champion.

Erie Cathedral Prep played its home games at Erie Veterans Memorial Stadium until 2010.

Thomas Jefferson will try to avoid a “PIAA letdown” with its longest road trip of the season.

“It’s tough, especially on a short week. It’s definitely difficult,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “We’ve been trying to get the kids focused; it’s a lot more mental stuff.

“Emotionally, our road to the WPIAL finals was so difficult. We played four of the top teams (in Class AAA). It was emotional, intense, crazy. We’re underdogs (against Prep). We’ve got to go play, or they will beat us.”

The Jaguars have been spurred by a winning formula — physical play in the trenches, outstanding individual performances by their skill-position players, and an unrelenting defense.

“They are imposing,” Prep coach Mike Mischler said. “They are tough, hard-nosed and physical. They beat four really good teams. We have our hands full up here.”

The Ramblers have won three of the past four district championships, and five of the last seven.

The also have won seven straight regional titles.

In what was termed one of the greatest performances in school history, Ta’Nauz Gregory, a 5-foot-7, 148-pound senior wide receiver/defensive back, led Prep to the district title in a come-from-behind win over Conneaut.

Moved to quarterback because of injury, Gregory — who leads the Ramblers in all-purpose yards and scoring — rushed for 186 yards on 16 carries and scored four times. He also completed a pass, had two receptions for 34 yards and made two interceptions.

The Ramblers’ starting quarterback is sophomore Joe Mischler, son of the coach.

“We’re preparing for both,” Cherpak said.

Gregory, Koran Williams and Dajon Heidleberg, all seniors, are Prep’s top receivers.

Prep won state titles in 2000 and 2012, and has been a state runner-up twice (1991, 1999).

The Ramblers thrashed Meadville, 62-8, and Oil City, 49-14, in the first two rounds of the district playoffs.

Prep is averaging 40 points offensively and 12.1 defensively, and has scored 60 or more points three times.

“Offensively, we have to get the ball to our playmakers,” said Mischler, who added that his team is aiming to avoid costly mistakes.

“Turnovers are very, very critical.”

Thomas Jefferson’s averages 34.8 and 10.3. TJ has recorded five shutouts and outscored the opposition 110-35 in four postseason games.

The Jaguars are led by junior tailback Quinton Hill, who ran for 141 yards in the WPIAL title game and has 1,592 yards and 24 touchdowns. Senior Braden Pahanish added 63 yards rushing Saturday, including a 57-yard scoring run.

Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at

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