"Down and Out"
New Castle (20) vs. Thomas Jefferson (47)
Written: Nov 19, 2008
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
BRIDGEVILLE — The rematch wasn’t meant to be for the New Castle High football team.
Thomas Jefferson rang up 571 yards of total offense in rolling to a 47-20 victory over the Red Hurricane last night in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals at Chartiers Valley High School.
“They handled us today,” New Castle coach Frank Bongivengo Jr. said. “They played better than we did up front and they moved the football on us.”
The victory sets up a championship showdown for the Jaguars (11-1) against Blackhawk (11-1), a 36-7 winner over Highlands at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at Heinz Field for the WPIAL championship. This was the 11th straight trip to the semifinals for Thomas Jefferson and it’s the sixth straight appearance in the championship game.
“There’s really no secret to it,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said of the program’s success. “We just work hard and coach everybody.
“When it’s the young kids turn to play, they have to be ready and we’ve been fortunate to have good players, too.”
New Castle (8-4) was looking advance to its first district championship since 1998 and set up another battle with the Cougars, who handed the ’Canes their only Parkway Conference defeat. New Castle rebounded nicely after opening the season 0-3.
“I’m proud of this team,” Bongivengo said. “No matter what the outcome of the game was tonight, this team battled all year long.
“When nobody gave us a chance these guys made it all the way to the semifinals. I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
The ’Canes couldn’t find a solution for Thomas Jefferson’s bruising running back Brian Baldrige. The 5-foot-9, 196-pounder rolled up 382 yards rushing on 32 carries with three touchdowns.
“I knew we were going to be able to run the ball,” Baldrige said. “Our line has played outstanding all year long and they opened up huge holes; they deserve all the credit. All I had to do was run through them.”
New Castle let a quality opportunity get away early in the first quarter. The ’Canes drove to the Jaguars’ 30 and Keith Keene was stopped on a fourth-and-one play for no gain.
“That always hurts you when you have a chance to get down there and put some points on the board and you get stopped,” Bongivengo said. “That took a little wind out of our sails.
“You can’t do things like that against a good football team like Thomas Jefferson.”
Thomas Jefferson gave New Castle another shot with the game scoreless when Baldrige’s fumble was recovered by E.J. Padula. However, three plays netted no yardage and the ’Canes were forced to punt.
Baldrige ended the scoreless duel when he plowed in from two yards out on the next possession for a 7-0 lead. He added another score on a 61-yard scamper for a 13-0 buffer. New Castle’s Brandon Burley raced in free on the conversion kick to get the block.
“Baldrige ran tremendous,” Bongivengo said. “They ran the ball down our throats and that’s what they wanted to do.”
Thomas Jefferson took control when Brock DeCicco hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Wehner, who is a son of former Pittsburgh Pirates player John Wehner. DeCicco caught the swing pass right at the line of scrimmage and shook off Burley’s attempted tackle at the line, coasting into the end zone for the score and a 20-0 lead.
The ’Canes fought back though as Michael Bongivengo, the coach’s son, marched the team to the Jaguars’ 5. He was sacked on third-and-goal back to the 20 and Ed Hasis thwarted the drive with an interception just inside the 1.
“They’re a good team,” said an emotional Michael Bongivengo. “They came out ready to play.”
With just 1:42 to play in the half and three timeouts left, it appeared New Castle had a great shot at getting another possession. But Wehner took a quarterback sneak up the middle and broke out of the pack for a 99-yard run and a convincing 27-0 advantage.
“We had about five missed tackles on the play,” Frank Bongivengo Jr. said. “We had him tackled three different times but we just didn’t wrap up and bring him to the ground.”
Wehner finished with 107 yards rushing on eight attempts.
Said Cherpak, “It was just a sneak to get it out of there and he broke a big play.”
NOTHING TO SHOW FOR IT
New Castle recorded seven first-half possessions, five of which crossed into Jaguars territory, but accumulated no points.
“I was surprised at halftime at how well our defense was playing,” Cherpak said. “I thought they would break something, especially when they got down to the 5.”
Said Michael Bongivengo, “We were confident at halftime. We knew we could score; we just didn’t execute as well as we should have in the first half.”
MAINTAINING THE MOMENTUM
The Jaguars nearly initiated the mercy rule on their first drive of the second half. They took the half’s opening kickoff and drove 48 yards in three plays, culminated in a 1-yard run by Wehner. However, New Castle’s defense stood its ground on the conversion run for a 33-0 deficit. Burley was ejected on the second play of the drive after being whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Frustration set in as Michael Bongivengo was picked off by Steve Licht on the ’Canes’ next play.
New Castle finally got on the board when Michael Bongivengo connected with Jajuan Jay on a 60-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-three to cut the deficit to 33-7.
“That was just a hitch that was thrown to the numbers,” the coach said. “Jajuan made a nice move and outran everyone to the end zone.”
Michael Bongivengo recorded a 24-yard touchdown run and freshman quarterback Johnny Matarazzo found sophomore Randy Gillette for a 23-yard scoring pass to account for the other New Castle scores.
ONE FINAL TIME
Michael Bongivengo, a senior quarterback who holds the program’s single-season passing yardage record, concluded his stellar career with 202 yards through the air on 12-of-24 passing. He tossed one touchdown with four interceptions, while rushing for 46 yards on 11 carries.
“He’s my coach here and he’s my dad at home,” Michael Bongivengo said of playing for his dad. “It was great to have him around. He’s a big part of my life.
“He’s a hell of a coach; just unbelievable.”
New Castle will lose 10 seniors to graduation. Frank Bongivengo Jr. acknowledged the solid job his veterans did this season.
“We lose a tremendous senior class, both academically and athletically,” Frank Bongivengo Jr. said. “It’s going to be tough to recover.
“There’s some tough young kids that are ready to step up and be leaders.”
NEW CASTLE THOMAS JEFFERSON
13 First downs 19
148 Yards Rushing 553
24 Yards Lost 16
124 Net Rushing 537
24 Passes Attempted 4
13 Passes Completed 1
4 Passes Intercepted 0
225 Yards Passing 34
349 Total Yards 571
2-1 Fumbles-Lost 4-3
3-25 Punts-Average 2-34
4-32 Penalties-Yards 2-7
NEW CASTLE 0 0 14 6 — 20
T. JEFFERSON 13 14 13 7 — 47
THOMAS JEFFERSON — Brian Baldrige, 2-yard run (Matt Sauter kick).
THOMAS JEFFERSON — Baldrige, 61-yard run (kick blocked).
THOMAS JEFFERSON — Brock DeCicco, 34-yard pass from Tyler Wehner (Sauter kick).
THOMAS JEFFERSON — Wehner, 99-yard run (Sauter kick).
THOMAS JEFFERSON — Wehner, 1-yard run (run failed).
NEW CASTLE — Jajuan Jay, 60-yard pass from Michael Bongivengo (Jay kick).
THOMAS JEFFERSON — Wehner, 1-yard run (Sauter kick).
NEW CASTLE — Bongivengo, 24-yard run (Jay kick).
THOMAS JEFFERSON — Baldrige, 1-yard run (Sauter kick).
NEW CASTLE — Randy Gillette, 23-yard pass from Johnny Matarazzo (run failed).