Jaguars enter ‘Final Four’ territory in WPIAL Class AAA football
Thomas Jefferson and West Allegheny will clash Friday in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinal round at Bethel Park High School Stadium.
The opening kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
“They are obviously an excellent team,” said Thomas Jefferson’s head coach, Bill Cherpak, about West Allegheny. “They have great skill players, and are very well coached. They do not make mistakes — it’s going to be a huge challenge for us.”
The two teams have a recent playoff history, as they have split decisions in their past four postseason matchups.
West Allegheny, the two-time defending WPIAL Class AAA champion, defeated the Jaguars in the WPIAL semifinals in 2012 and 2009 by scores of 24-7 and 28-21, respectively.
The Indians also captured a WPIAL crown in 2009.
Thomas Jefferson defeated the Indians in 2007 in the quarterfinal round, winning by a 49-21 score.
TJ won both WPIAL and PIAA titles that season and finished 16-0 overall.
The Jaguars blanked West Allegheny in the 2005 semifinals. The final score was 35-0.
Last week, Thomas Jefferson, the No. 2 seed in Class AAA, plowed past No. 10 Mars, 28-13, in the WPIAL quarterfinal round. No. 3 West Allegheny beat No. 6 Franklin Regional, 37-14.
The undefeated Jaguars improved to 11-0. West Allegheny improved to 10-1.
TJ’s Austin Kemp, a senior running back, rushed for 179 yards on 42 carries and scored three times against Mars.
Kemp now has 1,973 yards rushing and 39 touchdowns on the season.
Thomas Jefferson’s defense held the Planets’ vaunted running attack to minus-41 yards on 20 carries last week.
The Jaguars limited Mars to 105 total yards and had five sacks, including two apiece by Jacob Guinn, a senior lineman, and Devin Danielson, a freshman lineman.
TJ junior linebacker Braden Pahanish was credited with a sack and touchdown on a fumble recovery.
Sophomore DB Zane Zandier also picked off a pass for the Jaguars, giving him two interceptions in his team’s two playoff games.
Other defensive catalysts last week included senior linebacker Kyle Senich, sophomore linebacker Luke Petruzzi, sophomore DB Jonathan Muehlbauer, and senior ends Corey Payne and Russell Siess.
Payne also nabbed a key 26-yard reception from his tight end position.
West Allegheny, which used a balanced pro-style attack through nine-plus weeks, employed a wildcat offense against Franklin Regional.
Senior Chayse Dillon, and juniors Whitney White and Terrance Stephens, combined for 328 yards on 47 carries and scored all five of the Indians’ touchdowns.
Dillon ran for 158 yards on 23 carries; Stephens added 119 yards on 18 carries.
“They run more offensive sets and formations than any team we have ever played,” Cherpak said. “Defensively, they give you a lot of different looks and pursue to the ball very well.
“We must eliminate turnovers and penalties to have any chance of beating them.”
Both teams have high-scoring offenses. TJ is averaging 45.3 ppg; WA is scoring at a 43.4 ppg clip.
Thomas Jefferson has advanced to the WPIAL semifinals 16 times in the past 17 seasons, and has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs 26 times.
West Allegheny has advanced to the WPIAL playoffs 17 times.
Trib Total Media contributed to this story. Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or email@example.com.