Zuzak breaks tackle

Rob Burchianti | Herald-Standard

California’s Jaeden Zuzak breaks a tackle while running the ball against Mapletown during a Tri-County South Conference game on Sept. 25. Zuzak ran for 28 touchdowns and a two-point conversion for 170 points to finish first in the 2020 Herald-Standard Touchdown Club standings.

Jaeden Zuzak had a feeling his senior year would be special.

“I told my pap months before the season even started that I was going to be No. 1 in scoring,” said the California running back.

Zuzak did just that when it came to area football players. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior rambled for 28 touchdowns and a two-point conversion for 170 points to easily out-distance second-place Devin Whitlock, of Belle Vernon, who had 20 TDs for 120 points.

Zuzak rushed for 1,571 yards, averaging 14.5 yards per carry to help lead the Trojans to a 6-1 overall record, including a perfect 6-0 regular season. California won the Tri-County South Conference title and qualified for the WPIAL playoffs where it lost a close game to Shenango, 28-21.

Zuzak’s totals were even more amazing they came in only seven games. In fact, Zuzak’s average of 24.28 points per game was just a shade below 2019 TD Club champion Benjamin Jackson, of West Greene (25.16), who set the contest record with 302 points.

“I knew our numbers were pretty identical,” said Zuzak, who praised his offensive line for helping him turn in such a spectacular season.

“At the beginning of the season I heard a lot of people saying our downfall will be our offensive line,” Zuzak pointed out. “I think they were way underrated just because they were young. We had good coaches that put them in the right spot and they definitely surpassed expectations this year, making big holes for me to get through.”

Zuzak commended California coach Ed Woods, who he admitted he was skeptical of when he took over last season for the departing Darrin Dillow.

“At first everyone here had their doubts,” Zuzak said. “We weren’t looking forward to changing everything under a new coach.

“But having him come in was the best thing that could’ve happened to us. He’s a great coach. His record shows it. The guys he brought in were good coaches, too. They were great at putting us in the right positions at the right times to make the big plays we needed to be successful this season.”

Zuzak’s only complaint about his senior year of football was that it was too short.

“I love playing football, and it’s a bummer we couldn’t play a full schedule of games because I think we still would’ve went unbeaten,” Zuzak said. “But the fact that we were even able to have a season, get through all the COVID and still go undefeated makes this definitely a very memorable year.”

Zuzak plans to play football in college and major in criminal justice.

Zuzak and Whitlock were two of only three players to top the century mark in scoring in the Touchdown Club standings.

The other was Bentworth’s Owen Petrisek with 17 touchdowns, a two-point conversion and a tackle for a safety to finish third with 106 points.

Mapletown’s Landan Stevenson placed fourth and was the highest scoring sophomore with a mix of 12 touchdowns, four extra-point kicks and a pair of two-point conversions for 80 points. Connellsville’s Ky’ron Craggette was fifth with 72 points.

The highest scoring freshman was West Greene’s Colin Brady, who had 70 points to place sixth. Carmichaels’ Bailey Jones and Yough’s C.J. Waldier tied for seventh with 68 points apiece. Rounding out the top 10 were Frazier’s Kenny Fine (66) and Jefferson-Morgan’s Jonathan Wolfe (62).

Elizabeth Forward’s DaVontay Brownfield (60) and Belle Vernon freshman Quinton Martin (54) checked in at 11th and 12th, respectively, while Albert Gallatin’s Bruno Fabrycki, Yough’s Gamal Marballie and West Greene’s Corey Wise tied for 13th with 48 points.

Mount Pleasant’s Robbie Labuda combined four touchdowns, one field goal and 18 extra-point kicks to finish 16th with 45 points.

Tied for 17th were Laurel Highlands’ Rodney Gallagher and Ringgold’s John Polefko with 42 points. Connellsville’s Gage Gillott, Albert Gallatin’s Shawn Loring and Elizabeth Forward’s Andrew Smith tied for 19th with 40 points apiece.

Gillott was the lone player to score via four different methods with three touchdowns, one field goal, 17 extra-point kicks and one two-point conversion.

When it came to just kicking, Smith was the leader as all of his points came off his foot with three field goals and 31 extra points.

The top five in overall scoring were also the top five in touchdowns: Zuzak (28), Whitlock (20), Petricek (17), Stevenson (12) and Craggette (12).

The leader in two-point conversions by a comfortable margin was Wolfe who had seven, three more than second-place Waldier, who had four. Fabrycki and Trojans’ quarterback Damani Stafford both had three two-pointers, while Loring, Brady, Mapletown’s Clay Menear and Stevenson, and Carmichaels’ Trenton Carter each had two.

Whitlock led the way in interception returns for touchdowns, with three, and overall returns for TDs with four, which included a punt return.

Gallagher followed with a pair of interception returns for scores, both over 70 yards in the same game (vs. Trinity).

Three other players had two returns for scores: Mount Pleasant’s Tyler Reese (kickoff and fumble), Waldier (kickoff and interception) and Stevenson (punt and interception).

Back to kicking, three players booted a trio of field goals: Smith, Southmoreland’s Andrew Rodriguez and Bentworth’s Trevor Richardson.

The longest field goal of the season was 40 yards, done twice, by Gillott and Richardson.

The leader in extra-point kicks was Belle Vernon’s Tyler Kovatch with 32. He was followed by Smith (31), California’s Connor Vig (23), Labuda (18) and Gillott and Richardson (17 each).

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