Central Valley Warriors snap semifinal skid

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Standing behind his line with the pocket beginning to collapse, John George frantically looked around for options.

Faced with a third-and-4 near midfield, Central Valley's quarterback grasped the ball in his right hand away from his body, his head seemingly on a swivel.

He found a small opening 30 yards downfield -- the back shoulder of wide receiver B.J. Powell, who was being closely covered -- and George, who has come to be called "Johnny Football," did what his nickname implies -- he made a play and, ultimately, led his team to its season-long destination.

With the Warriors holding a 10-point lead, George connected with Powell on a 56-yard touchdown, a play that opened up the game in what turned out to be a 23-13 victory Friday night against Thomas Jefferson (11-1) at Chartiers Valley.

The win sends the 4-year-old school to Heinz Field next Saturday for the WPIAL Class AAA championship after consecutive seasons of falling a game short.

"They've worked extremely hard to put themselves in this position," Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. "To see their faces and their accomplishment and their gratification of getting back to [Heinz Field], it's priceless."

George finished with 179 total yards (140 passing, 39 rushing) and two touchdowns (one of each). On the other end of the ball, the Warriors (11-1) largely stifled a Jaguars team that averaged 40.9 points per game and had not scored fewer than 23 points in a contest.

Jordan Whitehead set up the Warriors' first touchdown, returning a short punt 25 yards to the Thomas Jefferson 15 before scoring on a rush the next play.

On the ensuing drive, Jaguars quarterback Christian Breisinger fumbled while being sacked, and Central Valley recovered it at the Thomas Jefferson 30. A handful of plays later, George rushed it in from 2 yards to double the lead with 3:44 remaining in the first.

The Jaguars would recover as the half went on, getting a touchdown run from Chase Winovich with 1:57 left that ended an 11-play, 58-yard drive before the Warriors tacked on a field goal for a 17-7 halftime lead.

While the Jaguars were able to utilize a strong running game throughout this season, their normally successful strategy was rendered almost moot at a double-digit deficit.

And even when it looked as if it caught a break, Thomas Jefferson was not able to capitalize.

A third-quarter interception gave the Jaguars the ball at the Warriors 12, but they gained only 4 yards and missed a 25-yard field-goal attempt. After the George-to-Powell touchdown pushed the Central Valley lead to 16, Thomas Jefferson got as close as 8 yards from the end zone, but turned it over on downs after the drive stalled.

Eventually, the Jaguars would take advantage of an opportunity, getting a touchdown run after recovering a blocked punt at the Central Valley 18. But after a failed 2-point conversion, one that would have made it a one-possession game, it was too little too late.

"We knew they were so explosive and we didn't want to give up big plays," Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. "For the most part we didn't, but we gave them that 14-0 lead. Those are things you just can't do."

The night belonged to George, who did not assume the starter's role until early October.

"We're going to Heinz," George said. "It's the best feeling in the world."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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