Oilers to Battle Thomas Jefferson With Trip to State Title Game on the Line

| November 20, 2020

JEFFERSON HILLS, Pa. – The Oil City Oilers are set to battle the Thomas Jefferson Jaguars in the PIAA Class 4A State Semifinals on Friday, with a trip to the championship game on the line.

(Photos by Richard Sayer)

The Oilers, who are 10-0 with a 7-0 regular season record, are fresh off a pair of one point playoff wins over Juniata and Upper Moreland. The Oilers have been without two of their best players throughout the playoffs, losing the powerful rushing of Cam Russell and the defense of linebacker Brayden Crocker to injuries.

“Crocker was our leader on defense,” said head coach Dan York. “He calls all the defensive signals and he was the leading tackler on the team.”

Replacing Crocker has been a tough task, but players like Mario Fontanazza, Holden Stahl, Zac Kiefer, and freshman Kevin Pearsall have stepped up well to fill the void.

Despite injuries piling up for the Oil City offense, the Oilers have continued to play their game thus far in the playoffs, using both passing and rushing to cut open opposing defenses. Quarterback Holden Stahl has upped his game during the playoff push, throwing for 194 and 170 yards in the two state playoff wins, well above Oil City’s pre-playoff average.

“Holden seems to have a good touch for the deep ball… and he’s been great running the option,” said York.

York also lauded Stahl’s strong decision making and his ability to avoid turnovers, as he has only thrown two interceptions in his three years under center for the Oilers. Sean Stack and Isiah Aeschbaker have also done well carrying the football, maintaining the Oilers’ strong ground attack.

Perhaps Oil City’s strongest trait throughout the playoffs has been their resilience. The Oilers have overcome injuries and made clutch plays, coming up big during the most important moments of their playoff run. The Oilers have both come from behind to win, and recovered to secure the win after relinquishing a big lead.

“Even if we got behind by a little bit, nobody panicked. [The players] don’t have any panic in them,” said York, who went on to praise the resilience of his team: “We have a core group of kids who have a lot of fight in them and they’re not going to give up no matter what the circumstances are.”

No matter what happens on Friday, it would be unwise to doubt the fight and comeback potential of Oil City.

The Thomas Jefferson Jaguars are 8-1 overall, topping Mars, Plum, and Aliquippa to enter the state semifinals. Last week, the Jaguars defeated Aliquippa in overtime to win the WPIAL title. Despite seeing a 28-14 lead dissolve late in the fourth quarter, Thomas Jefferson came up big in overtime, scoring on a quarterback sneak to gain the lead and snagging an interception on Aliquippa’s subsequent possession to end the game.

The Jaguars have a strong defense, only allowing 20+ points in two of their nine games. Thomas Jefferson has forced a solid 13 turnovers and seven sacks this season, but their biggest strength has been keeping teams out of the endzone, not allowing their opponents to finish drives. Coach York believes that team speed is one of Thomas Jefferson’s best defensive assets. “Defensively, they are very quick. The defensive line gets off the ball really well, their linebackers all run really well, and their secondary is pretty good,” said York. The Oilers will need to match the speed of the Jaguars to move the ball on the ground, and will need good decision making to succeed through the air.

Offensively, the Jaguars possess good passing and rushing options. Senior quarterback Jake Pugh has 1500+ passing yards while completing 60% of his passes, while Preston Zandier and Ian Hansen each have 550+ receiving yards. On the ground, Thomas Jefferson is led by Conner Murga, who averages 7.6 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns on the season. Coach York is weary of Thomas Jefferson’s multitalented offense. “Their offensive line is very tall and athletic, and they have a quarterback who throws the ball well. They can try to run power, and they can try to throw the ball as well.” Oil City will have their work cut out for them against the Jaguars, and the Oilers will need to be focused and aggressive on defense to stop Thomas Jefferson’s dynamic offense.

Kickoff for the came is slated for 7:00 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson High School in Jefferson Hills, Pa.

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