Thomas Jefferson seniors reflect on WPIAL runner-up finish
The Thomas Jefferson football season ended on a sour note with the Jaguars finishing as the WPIAL Class 4A runner-up.
Top-seeded Thomas Jefferson lost to No. 2 South Fayette, 31-24, in the WPIAL final Nov. 17 at Heinz Field.
It was a deflating defeat for the Jaguars (11-1), who were seeking to make school history with an unprecedented fourth consecutive WPIAL championship.
“We came up short of our goals, but it was still an awesome year with even better teammates and coaches,” said senior lineman Dom Serapiglia, a four-year starter. “I wouldn’t trade them for anything, and I wouldn’t have wanted to play with anyone else besides them.
“I love my team, and I’ll take us over any one any day. They have made my four years here amazing, and I’m proud of my team and to be able to say I’m a Jaguar for life.”
TJ senior RB/LB Max Shaw rushed for 212 yards and three touchdowns on 41 carries against the Lions (12-1). It was his fifth game in a row that he gained at least 200 yards. During that span, Shaw ran for 1,251 yards and 10 touchdowns on 146 carries, an average of 250.2 yards per game. He wrapped up the year with 1,971 yards and 35 touchdowns on 214 carries, which set a new team record of 9.2 yards per carry.
“Obviously, we wanted to win the WPIAL and then move on to be a serious contender to win the state,” Shaw said. “However, with the way things went, I am still happy with the season we had. That team was awesome to play on, and I couldn’t be more glad to have spent my senior year with those guys.
“One thing I learned from that group was resilience, and that’s also how I know that nothing is stopping those guys from getting back down to Heinz and reclaiming the title.”
Overall, Shaw, who caught four passes for 61 yards this season, accounted for 2,032 yards in total offense. He tied two team rushing records with his six-touchdown performance Oct. 19 against Greensburg Salem.
Junior QB/DB Shane Stump completed 9 of 27 passes for 165 yards against South Fayette, boosting his season totals to 89 completions in 154 attempts for 1,833 yards with 24 TDs and nine interceptions.
The past two years, Stump has thrown for 3,441 yards and 48 touchdowns, connecting on 173 of 333 attempts.
“Some people might say that our season wasn’t a failure,” Stump said. “Undefeated up until the WPIAL championship, conference champs, a dominant win against Belle Vernon — it all sounds like it would add up to a good season, but that’s not how any of us look at it.
“Losing to South Fayette, while it doesn’t take all the good away from the season, makes it feel like a failure to everyone on the team. It feels like we came of short of our goals, and it’s probably because we did. At the beginning of this season, everyone had a win against Erie Prep and a state championship as (two) of their goals. We had more than enough talent to do it. It just feels like we let the community, coaches, alumni and ourselves down.”
Junior WR/DB Dan Deabner had eight receptions for 146 yards in the WPIAL championship game, giving him 59 catches for 1,365 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season. Deaner averaged 23.1 yards per catch, and set a new team record for receiving yards in a season.
TJ averaged 47.6 ppg and allowed 10.8 ppg in 2018, outscoring the opposition by a 571-129 margin.
The Jaguars racked up a season-high 545 yards in total offense against Greensburg Salem, and held five regular-season opponents to less than 60 offensive yards — Ringgold (26), Trinity (4), Connellsvile (38), Laurel Highlands (57) and West Mifflin (57).
TJ also amassed more than 5,000 total offensive yards (5,096), an average of 424.7 yards per game.
Nathan Werderber and James Martinis, a pair of junior linebackers, led the team in tackles this season, and were complemented defensively by Shaw, junior lineman Logan Danielson, Stump, Deabner, senior DE Gabe Dominick, junior DB Dylan Mallozzi and sophomore DB DeRon VanBibber.
Other defensive contributors included junior LB Bowen Dame, sophomore LB Trevor Barrett, plus senior lineman Darius Barrett, Sean Barrett and Serapiglia.
Deabner logged a team-high four interceptions; Darius Barrett and Danielson led in sacks with six and five.
Nine players caught passes for the Jaguars this season. Along with Deabner and Shaw, they were Martinis (10-222), Dame (5-75), sophomores Ian Hansen (5-41), Preston Zandier (4-52) and Jack Konick (2-35), Werderber (1-17) and Mallozzi (1-11).
Shaw topped the team’s scoring column with his 35 touchdowns and 212 points, while Deabner accounted for 21 touchdowns and 126 points.
Senior kicking specialist A.J. Meshanko booted 70 extra points and one field goal to finish with 73 points. Meshanko punted only 10 times all year.
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.