Thomas Jefferson’s ground game conquers Mars, 28-13
Austin Kemp meets with Bill Cherpak at his house every week to put together a play sheet and talk strategy for that night’s game.
The get-together before Friday’s Class AAA quarterfinal game against Mars was just like every other one … expect for when Kemp brought up throwing the ball out of their wildcat offense.
“I stopped him right there and said, ‘Look, if we are passing, it’s not good for us,’ ” Cherpak said.
Thomas Jefferson threw one pass against Mars, and yes, it meant good things for the Jaguars.
No. 2 Thomas Jefferson used a powerful running game behind Kemp and the wildcat along with a smothering defense to advance to the semifinals for the 16th time in 17 years with a 28-13 win over No. 10 Mars (7-4) at Chartiers Valley.
Thomas Jefferson (11-0) will take on No. 3 West Allegheny (10-1), a 37-14 winner over Franklin Regional, next Friday at a time and site to be determined with a trip to Heinz Field on the line. West Allegheny has beaten TJ the past two times they’ve met in the playoffs: 2009 and ’12.
Kemp rushed for 201 yards on 46 carries and scored on runs of 5, 1 and 15 yards. Kemp completed his only pass, a 26-yarder to Corey Payne, and accounted for 227 of TJ’s 272 total yards. Kemp came into the game with only 175 carries but had 29 by the half.
“We just kept plugging away and plugging away,” Cherpak said. “That’s us right there. That’s what we have to do. He will carry it 80 times if we need him to.”
Braden Pahanish took care of TJ’s other 45 yards on 13 carries. He also came up with a game-changing defensive play, sacking Mars quarterback Jake Rosswog in a 14-7 game midway through the third quarter and forcing a fumble. Pahanish picked the ball up and scored from 3 yards to extend the lead to 21-7.
“You have to make plays, and we didn’t make some plays,” Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. “If you give them a short field, you are in trouble. That’s why it ended up like it did.”
Mars has one of the most dynamic rushing attacks in the WPIAL, but TJ held the Planets to minus-41 yards on 20 carries thanks to six sacks and some aggressive play.
Ori Rinaman, who rushed for 239 yards and six touchdowns last week, was held to 4 yards on eight carries. TJ limited Mars to 105 yards and, at one point in the second half, forced the Planets into nine consecutive negative or no-gain plays.
“Our big thing was that we knew we could let them run the ball,” Cherpak said. “Our defense was key to the game.”
The offense wasn’t far behind. Despite an undersized offensive line that had to contend with Mars defensive front, which is led by 6-foot-3, 380-pound Marshall Robinson, the Jaguars eventually wore them down.
A 17-play, 77-yard second-quarter drive was spurred by 15 carries by Kemp. It was capped by Kemp’s 5-yard touchdown run to knot the score at 7-7.
“That’s us. That’s vintage us,” Cherpak said “That’s what we have done all year. That’s what we do best.”
TJ’s defense held Mars to minus-29 yards in the third quarter.
“I can’t say enough about the defense,” Cherpak said. “We wanted to attack them and not let us attack us and that’s what we did.”