By Matt Popchock
Chartiers Valley lost to Thomas Jefferson 37-22 on homecoming night at Thomas Jefferson High School last Friday, and in doing so, lost its grip on first place in the Class AAA Big Eight Conference.
Fortunately for the Colts, according to head football coach Chris Saluga, that’s all they’ve lost for now.
Thomas Jefferson Stadium eerily turned into downtown Punxsutawney for senior quarterback Wayne Capers, who, late in the game, suffered a lower-body injury that appeared to be serious…for the third year in a row.
But when I talked to Saluga on Monday after practice, he said the damage to Capers, which was at an undisclosed spot on his left leg, most likely the ankle, was not season-ending. He corroborated that to the Tribune-Review’s Chris Harlan on Tuesday, adding he is confident Capers can play this Friday.
Phew…okay, you can put the movie on pause now. Cancel all those Bill Murray references I had planned.
Wait. Not so fast, says Saluga.
“Groundhog Day” may be over for Capers, but his coach still hasn’t taken his eyes off the footage of repeatedly low tackles levied against his quarterback, having repeated claims he was concerned for Capers’ health throughout the game.
Furthermore, some readers of Mike White’s “Varsity Blog” (highly recommended reading, by the way) at the Post-Gazette website are fuming over video highlights posted of last Friday’s game, particularly the injurious play.
“Are you going to give Bill Cherpak a free pass on the injury to Capers? Look at 1:40 of the video from that game. The TJ player intentionally rolls after the tackle, purposely twisting Capers’ leg in an effort to injure him,” says “Varsity Blog” reader ‘FranklinFranklin.’
“Players do what coaches tell them to do…Cherpak and #40 should be suspended by the WPIAL for the rest of the season for jeopardizing Capers’ career, all in the name of winning a game,” the reader goes on to say. “[He] deserves to be called out on this…what Cherpak coached his players to do is disgraceful.”
Although the topic was never actually broached, Cherpak defended himself against these allegations, veiled or otherwise, on “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show” (Saturdays at 7:00 A.M. on 93.7 The Fan). He said the same thing he told us all after Friday’s game, that because of Capers’ elusiveness and general athletic ability, the most effective way to stop him is to tackle him low.
Besides, I never played high school football, but it’s my understanding players are taught to hit the offensive player low anyway.
In the increasingly–and sometimes disturbingly–competitive world of scholastic sports, anything is possible. Thomas Jefferson defenders were tackling low on multiple occasions (as my own readers should recall, I was there to see it for myself), so, all things considered, perhaps allegations of dirty play were to be expected. However, the evidence against Cherpak’s team pointed to by Mike’s reader is circumstantial.
In the play in question, Tyler Toboz of the Jaguars pulls Capers to the ground on a diving effort, holding the quarterback to a negligible gain on a QB keeper deep in Thomas Jefferson territory, at which point Capers came up lame.
Toboz is initially blocked out of the play. Capers had found an avenue, and Toboz had to recover and come from behind to make that tackle, and if not for his dive, Capers, based on what I know about him, might have had a real shot at a touchdown.
Chartiers Valley trailed 28-19 at the time and was still very much in the game. As ‘FranklinFranklin’ says, players do what they are coached to do, and on that play, Toboz’s objective was to simply contain the ball-carrier and keep him out of the end zone. Let’s at least credit Toboz for not giving up on the play.
Yes, Capers also had to have foot surgery after his sophomore season, and Toboz appeared to aim toward his feet. But if Toboz didn’t go for the feet, the potential existed for Capers to escape the tackle, so the absence of a flag at the end of the play was understandable.
TJ had already been flagged for multiple personal fouls against Capers, so it’s not like the team wasn’t already on notice, and it wouldn’t make sense for the Jaguars to put themselves in a position to be assessed even more costly penalties in an important game. Plus, once the quarterback leaves the pocket, he will typically be treated like any other player, by players and officials alike.
Furthermore, Capers’ left leg is the one that has been wounded. Last season, it was his right ACL that did him in, making it harder to believe a specific infirmity was targeted.
If the Jaguars were guilty of anything, they were guilty of playing undisciplined at times. Of that much I am certain. Again, dirty play is never outside the realm of possibility, but with all due respect to Mike’s reader, it’s not always cut-and-dry, either. In order to substantiate this claim, I would have to look at film of Chartiers Valley’s previous games to see how often Capers’ lower body was tackled back then.
In any event, I hope Capers does indeed return sooner, not later. He is usually the most exciting player on any gridiron he steps onto, and until his latest injury, Friday was no different.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)