HERSHEY, Pa. - This hurt.
As the Garnet Valley Jaguars looked up into the empty night, their opponents celebrated on the opposite sideline.
They celebrated like no other team had against Garnet Valley the last nine weeks. And, boy, did it hurt.
Garnet Valley had its eight-game winning streak snapped in what was the biggest game in school history. The Thomas Jefferson Jaguars took a 28-3 victory in last night's PIAA Class AAA state championship game before 5,087 at HersheyPark Stadium.
"We all put our heart and soul into every play,"said Drew Kravitz, a Garnet Valley inside linebacker, "and to come out like this is tough. It's tough to take. . . ."
The best season in Garnet Valley history came to an end at 13-2, one win shy of the football program's first state title.
Thomas Jefferson (16-0) clinched its second state title in the past four seasons.
This time around, quarterback Zach DeCicco played a major role for the Western Pennsylvania powerhouse.
The senior, who began the season at wideout, completed 10 of 17 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns, covering 20 and 10 yards. He also rushed four times for 71 yards and 10-yard score. The 6-foot, 180-pounder also intercepted two passes from his defensive back possession.
But DeCicco wasn't Thomas Jefferson's lone standout. Running backs Nate Bota (10 carries, 143 rushing yards, one TD) and Orlando Torres (20-102) shone on a team that compiled 468 total yards, with 331 coming on the ground.
Defensively, Thomas Jefferson held Garnet Valley to 206 total yards. Garnet Valley came in averaging 378.5 per game.
"They did have a lot of big plays," Kravitz said. "A couple of their players also made spectacular plays, where our defense couldn't have covered their passes any better."
Early on, nothing was spectacular about either team's offense. But all that changed on Thomas Jefferson's first possession of the second quarter.
On a first-and-10 play, Torres was the beneficiary of key blocks from Jefferson's interior linemen. The speedster scooted up the middle for a 44-yard gain to the Garnet Valley 23-yard line.
Bota then benefited from a huge hole on the ensuing play. After taking the handoff, the fullback rumbled down the left sideline into the end zone. Jefferson led 7-0 after Dan Braun's extra point with 6 minutes, 53 seconds left in the half.
Unfazed, Garnet Valley's Eric Van Wyk capped a 10-play drive on the ensuing possession with a 37-yard field goal.
But the District 1 program's celebration was short-lived. And once again, Torres made a momentum-changing play.
The senior hauled in a 22-yard reception on a fourth-and-6 from the Garnet Valley 32. On the very next play, DeCicco completed a 10-yard TD pass to Trevor Wildman in the corner of end zone with 3:00 left in the half.
Trailing by 14-3 late in the third quarter, Garnet Valley elected to go for it on fourth and 2 at its own 28-yard line. Valley's option offense, which struggled to mount a consistent run game, failed to convert on a short out pattern to the sideline.
Jefferson salted away the victory on the next series, as DeCicco connected with his brother, Brock, on a 15-yard scoring strike with 11:30 to play in the fourth quarter.
Garnet Valley0 3 0 0 - 3
Thomas Jefferson0 14 0 14 - 28
TJ: Bota 23 run (Braun kick)
GV: FG Van Wyk 37
TJ: Whittington 20 pass from McGraw (Braun kick)
TJ: B. DeCicco 15 pass from McGraw (Braun kick)
TJ: Z. DeCicco 10 run (Braun kick)
Garnet Valley EricVan Wyk 14-62; Jared Bonacquisti, 9-24; Tim Keyser, 4-22; Chris Palaio, 4-3. Thomas Jefferson Nate Bota, 10-143; Orlando Torres, 20-102; Zach DeCicco, 4-71; Author James, 5-8; Trevor Wildman, 1-5; Evan Zampatti, 1-2.
Garnet Valley Eric Van Wyk 11-17-1 95; Tim Keyser 0-1-1 0. Thomas Jefferson Zach DeCicco 10-17-0 137.
Garnet Valley Tim Keyser 7-63; Jared Bonacquisti 2-14; Chris Palaio 1-11; Steve Jacobs 1-7. Thomas Jefferson Trevor Wildman 6-71; Brock DeCicco 3-54; Orlando Torres 1-12.
Jefferson switches to an air attack to pull off victory
HERSHEY, Pa. - Garnet Valley's defensive unit expected to engage in trench warfare with undefeated Thomas Jefferson in last night's state championship game.
Jefferson, however, had a trick up its sleeve. The western Pennsylvania power revealed an aerial attack that proved just as efficient as its vaunted ground game.
Behind the arm of senior Zach DeCicco, Thomas Jefferson defeated Garnet Valley, 28-3, in the PIAA Class AAA championship at HersheyPark Stadium.
The wide receiver-turned-quarterback completed 10 of 17 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns, leading Thomas Jefferson (16-0) to its first state championship since 2004.
"We were planning on running the ball, but they were giving up the pass," said DeCicco, who replaced former starter, senior Tyler Wehner, who was dismissed for breaking team rules earlier in the season. "We threw it pretty well, and that just opened everything else up."
DeCicco also ran for 71 yards on four carries, scoring on a 10-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
Throughout the season, Jefferson leaned on its massive offensive line to clear paths for running back Orlando Torres. But with Garnet Valley (13-2) focusing its efforts on limiting the run, Jefferson turned to DeCicco.
He did not disappoint.
After completing only three passes against Strong Vincent last week in the state semifinals, DeCicco completed 5 of 8 first half pass attempts, highlighted by a 20-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Wildman with 33 seconds left before intermission. Wildman made an amazing, over-the-shoulder grab.
DeCicco then hurled a jump ball to his brother, junior Brock DeCicco, who came down with the 15-yard TD reception to give Jefferson a 21-3 advantage with 11:30 left in the fourth quarter.
"I thought [Zach] DeCicco played a great game tonight," Garnet Valley coach Mike Ricci said. "I thought two of their catches in the end zone, especially that first one down here before halftime, I thought it was a great throw and a great catch. We had great coverage. The kid made a good throw and [the receiver] made a good catch.
"We didn't expect them to pass the ball."