AJ Alston had an idea about how his night might go.
It was an optimistic prognostication from the Montour junior wide receiver for the No. 3 Spartans’ WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinal playoff game Friday night against No. 6 Thomas Jefferson at Thomas J. Birko Memorial Stadium.
“I wanted to go for three,” said Alston of how many touchdowns he thought he might catch.
It turns out he was way off.
Alston caught eight passes for 237 yards and five touchdowns to lead Montour to a dominating 51-21 victory against visiting Thomas Jefferson, one of Western Pennsylvania’s perennial powers, and into the WPIAL semifinals.
“I feel great right now,” said Alston, whose touchdowns came on passes of 12, 30, 41, 19 and 94 yards. “Everyone is showing me love. I feel good.”
Quarterback Jake Wolfe was also feeling good Friday night after leading the Spartans (10-1) to a rout of the Jaguars (9-3). He completed 14-of-26 passes for 223 yards and five touchdowns, while also carrying the football 16 times for 81 yards and an additional score.
“I didn’t get to finish out the first playoff game last year,” Wolfe said. “To be able to finish out the game, and the whole team played well, and get a great win over a good team, that’s awesome.”
The mood was most definitely less than idyllic on the opposing sideline.
The 51 points Thomas Jefferson conceded were the most the Jaguars have given up under legendary coach Bill Cherpak, whose 309 all-time wins include nine WPIAL championships and five PIAA titles.
Prior to Friday night, the worst loss Cherpak endured was a 43-7 setback to Cocoa, Florida, in 2010. It was only the third time Thomas Jefferson has endured the Mercy Rule being applied against it during the Cherpak era.
The Jaguars had reached the WPIAL semifinals in 11 consecutive seasons and 24 of the past 25 years.
“Our coaches put a great game plan on both sides of the ball,” Montour coach Lou Cerro said. “That’s all I care about. The kids believe.
“Am I shocked by the score? Yeah, but we were hitting on all cylinders tonight.”
As impressive as the Spartans’ offensive output was, its defense was nearly equal to the task.
While Wolfe and Alston connected on first-half touchdowns of 12 and 30 yards and kicker Matt Marcinko booted a 24-yard field goal to give Montour a 16-0 advantage at the break, its defense was doing its part to stifle the Jaguars offense.
Montour conceded just 83 first-half yards — 34 on the ground and 39 via the pass.
Cerro said when Thomas Jefferson won the coin toss and deferred possession until the second half, his team had to set the tone.
“That’s what we did,” he said. “I’m confident in our offense each and every time we get the ball. We do a lot of great things out there. We’ve got a great quarterback, and that’s what happens when you practice hard. We have a confident team. That’s all I care about right now.”
The Spartans finished the game allowing just 106 yards through the air and 158 on the ground, many of which came in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
“We’re a good team, so are they, but you love to see it,” said Montour junior Mark Dobrowsky, who plays left tackle on offense and defensive tackle. “We didn’t expect to hang 51 in a playoff game. That doesn’t happen in a playoff game, round two especially, but we did it. Everyone did their role. Everyone played a part. That’s what happens. It’s what happens when we come together as a team. It’s who we are.”
Montour forced Jaguars senior quarterback Brody Evans into a pair of second-half interceptions — one by defensive lineman Alexander Dusch and another by linebacker Kaleb Platz.
Thomas Jefferson also turned the football over on a fumbled punt.
The Jaguars offense was paced by senior running back Elias Lippincott, who rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Thomas Jefferson also notched second-half touchdowns on a 21-yard scoring strike from Evans to Sean Sullivan and a 26-yard run by Trent Miller.
But it was Montour’s ability to set the tone early, which undeniably frustrated Thomas Jefferson’s offense and led to the win, Dobrowsky said.
“It’s physicality and mentality, I think,” the 6-foot-3, 285-pound two-way player said. “We don’t have the biggest o-line, but we get after it. We’ve got high motors. We’ve got dogs on the o-line, d-line.
“We worked our asses off all summer, all preseason, just for this.”
Montour now advances to face No. 2 seed McKeesport (9-1), which dispatched of Trinity, 28-14, Friday in a quarterfinal contest.
“We have to come to practice Monday, walk in, watch film, have a hard week of practice and just come out and execute next Friday,” Wolfe said.
With impressive road wins against Mars, Moon and Central Valley to their credit, along with their dominant showing against Thomas Jefferson, Alston said his team will enter the WPIAL semifinals with plenty of confidence.
“A lot, but not too cocky,” he said. “We still understand what we’ve got to get done. Know the assignment, get the job done next week.”