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Bulldogs know Thomas Jefferson is a tough team to beat

If Jersey Shore wishes to capture the PIAA Class AAAA championship Saturday over last year’s champion Thomas Jefferson, the Bulldogs will need to get out to a fast start offensively and force turnovers on the defensive side of the ball.

The 10-0 Bulldogs are set to meet the 9-1 Jaguars on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium.

“They’re tough everywhere it starts with their line. On offense and defense, they have very athletic lines. They’re tall,” Jersey Shore coach Tom Gravish said. “We need to get off to a good start and force a couple of turnovers on their end and then capitalize off them.”

Thomas Jefferson took down Oil City, 62-0, in convincing fashion Friday night in order to reach the state title game against Jersey Shore. The Jaguars are winners of five straight after suffering a loss to McKeesport in October. The loss to McKeesport was Thomas Jefferson’s first home loss since the 2017 season.

Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak clinched his ninth WPIAL championship and has a senior-dominated team.

The Jaguars will be the best team Jersey Shore has faced all season, just like last week’s challenge against Lampeter-Strasburg. As previously noted, the Jaguars are no stranger to Hershey. Thomas Jefferson captured the 2019 state championship with a victory over Dallas. In the state playoffs, the Jaguars have outscored their opponents, 117-45.

The Jaguars have pitched four shutouts and eclipsed 50 points four times.

Offensively, Thomas Jefferson is averaging 42 points per game and is led by senior quarterback Jake Pugh. He’s tossed 24 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

The Jaguars offense is a balanced unit according to Gravish.

“They run a lot of Iso, and they’re similar to us in some ways,” Gravish said. “They run some play action and also runs some spread sets.”

Pugh’s favorite target this season has been senior wide receiver Preston Zandier, who has a team-high 10 receiving touchdowns. Senior running back Conner Murga is a playmaker the Bulldogs need to lookout for. Murga has ran for more than 700 yards and leads the team with 12 touchdowns.

Slowing down Murga’s production can go along way for the Bulldogs and their hopes of winning Saturday. In Thomas Jefferson’s loss to McKeesport, Murga was limited to 58 yards on 11 carries.

Outside of containing Murga, Jersey Shore will need to score early. The Bulldogs ability to score fast is a major reason why they have found success this season, with a talented defense like Jersey Shore’s an early touchdown can go along way.

Reverting back to the McKeesport loss, Thomas Jefferson trailed 20-0 at halftime and was never able to overcome the deficit. The Jaguars also turned the ball over four times in the loss, and that is something the Bulldogs can do: force turnovers when it matters.

Jersey Shore’s defense has been solid all season long and will look to create turnovers Saturday afternoon.

Gravish said his team is ready to go in the state title game. He is not concerned with his team battling last year’s champions.

“I think our kids are gaining a little bit more confidence, they’ve been in these games before,” Gravish said.

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