Undefeated Thomas Jefferson braces for familiar foe in WPIAL semifinals
Bill Cherpak didn’t plan to feature a one-dimensional offense, but there just wasn’t any reason to throw.
With a solid offensive line and some physical runners, Thomas Jefferson’s coach kept things grounded this season with a wildcat attack. His team’s leading passer has thrown the football 18 times; the leading rusher has 217 carries.
And the Jaguars are 11-0.
“That’s crazy,” Cherpak said. “I never would have thought we’d throw less than 25 passes the whole year. But when you look back, (coach Bob) Palko was successful with it at West A.”
Palko and Cherpak, both title-winning coaches in their 20th seasons, have a knack for reinventing offenses. Their teams play at 7:30 p.m. Friday, when No. 2 Thomas Jefferson and No. 3 West Allegheny (10-1) meet at Bethel Park in a WPIAL Class AAA semifinal.
When they met in a 2012 semifinal, West Allegheny won with a run-first wildcat attack. Thomas Jefferson used a four-receiver formation. Two years later, both offenses look much different.
“I think that’s part of being successful,” said Cherpak, whose team has reached the semifinals in 16 of the last 17 years. “People make it seem harder than it is. Really, you’re just trying to get your best players their best opportunity to make plays. That’s it.”
West Allegheny won the first of its consecutive WPIAL titles the last two years with a run-heavy approach.
This year, senior Chayse Dillon and junior Terence Stephens have 1,400 yards and 27 touchdowns on 208 carries. But with 1,200-yard passer Andrew Koester at quarterback, the Indians have added balance to their offense.
In contrast, there’s little mystery in TJ’s game plan. Austin Kemp, a tailback who lines up behind center, leads the WPIAL in rushing with 1,973 yards and 37 touchdowns.
“It’s pretty simple football, but it’s effective,” Palko said. “You don’t need a passing game to win.”
Thomas Jefferson’s wildcat differs from West Allegheny’s in approach. While West A tried to spread defenses out with varied formations, Thomas Jefferson draws the defense together with two full backs and two tight ends.
Rather than speed, TJ uses power.
“They’re just going to line up and kick your (butt),” Palko said. “I don’t think they even take names.”
Kemp had 42 carries for 179 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s quarterfinal win, when the Jaguars threw only one pass.
“It’s just what we are now,” Cherpak said. “Next year and the years after may be different. But right now this is what we do.”