West Xtra: Central Valley junior is out to avoid playoff frustration

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Jordan Whitehead's sophomore football season came to an end with an overtime loss in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals.

He wasn't going to allow his junior season to end the same way.

Whitehead scored touchdowns on a run, a reception and a kickoff return in the Warriors' 35-21 victory against Mars Area Friday night.

"Last season, we lost on a point at the last second," Whitehead said. "I want to win a championship and I thought our team came in very focused. The team played well and we just needed someone to step up and I tried to do that."

With Central Valley (10-1) trailing, 14-7, in the second quarter, Whitehead went to work. He caught a 5-yard touchdown pass near the end of the half to tie the score. Then he returned the second-half kickoff 94 yards for a score to give Central Valley a lead it would never relinquish.

A few minutes later, Whitehead gave the Warriors a cushion with a 74-yard touchdown run.

It was tough for Mars to contain Whitehead, considering Central Valley lines him up at running back and receiver, as well as at quarterback in the Warriors' wildcat package.

"I like playing a lot of different positions," Whitehead said. "If I'm at running back and it's just pitch right, then pitch left, defenses can stop that. But it's tougher when I'm everywhere on the field.

"I think we're most dangerous when I'm out wide and we have JaQuan Pennington and John George in the backfield, because it gives us a lot of big threats."

Whitehead was almost exclusively a running back last season when Central Valley had Robert Foster, now at the University of Alabama, playing wide receiver. Whitehead rushed for 918 yards in his first varsity season.

Whitehead started out playing mostly running back again this season, but after West Allegheny held Central Valley to just two first downs and 51 total yards in a 13-7 Indians win on Sept. 27, Central Valley coach Mark Lyons decided to make a change.

"The West Allegheny game told us we needed to find other ways to get him the football," Lyons said. "When he's stuck at tailback, his space is limited. So we can put him out wide and he's a pretty good route runner. This way, he can strike horizontally and vertically."

The Warriors haven't lost a game since the move, outscoring their six opponents 241-55. Whitehead has more than 600 yards rushing and 250 yards receiving on the season.

Of course, the offense isn't the only reason for that wide disparity in margin of victory. Central Valley is the second-stingiest team in WPIAL Class AAA, allowing just 6.7 points per contest, and Whitehead plays a large role.

Whitehead plays defensive back for the Warriors, and is receiving interest from major Division I programs at the position.

He showed off his ball skills with an interception Friday against Mars, but he's also very good against the run.

"He's an important part of our run defense, especially when we put him at safety in the middle of the field," Lyons said. "We'll put him where it best suits us defensively.

"And let's face it, if we don't stop [Chase] Winovich, we don't have a chance."

Winovich is Thomas Jefferson's senior quarterback/running back who committed to play linebacker at Michigan earlier this season.

He has had some big games this season, rushing for 245 yards and four touchdowns against West Mifflin and 229 yards and three touchdowns in the Jaguars' 23-14 victory against Highlands last Friday in the quarterfinals.

Thomas Jefferson (11-0), the No. 2 seed, will play Central Valley at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Chartiers Valley.

"It's not just him, because they have a lot of good players, but we definitely will be keying on him," Whitehead said. "If we can shut him down, we can be successful."

And the Warriors could be one step closer to Whitehead's goal of winning a championship.

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