There is no better rivalry in all of WPIAL football than Thomas Jefferson-Belle Vernon, and the classic battle between the two powerhouse programs on Friday night proved it.
After trailing by nine points at halftime on the road against the defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A champions, Class 4A No. 2-ranked Thomas Jefferson came out of the locker room with an inspired defensive effort and pitched a second-half shutout en route to a thrilling 24-19 nonconference win against the Class 3A No. 1 Leopards (3-1) at James Weir Stadium, aka “The Beach.”
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot and putting ourselves in a bad position, but we just kept coming back and giving ourselves a chance to win, and that’s all you have to do,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. “That’s the first really big game that some of our kids have played in. We have a lot of new starters. Some of our kids were even telling me before the game, ‘Hey coach, I’m nervous.’ I said, ‘Good, that means it means something to you.’
“It was just an overall team win. Everybody chipped in and did something to help us win.”
Senior wide receiver Jason Salmon had a stellar second half for the Jaguars (5-0), making a crucial end-zone interception before hauling in a highlight-reel 49-yard touchdown grab with a little more than three minutes remaining that would prove to be the winner. He also laid a big hit on Belle Vernon star senior Quinton Martin to break up a pass down the sideline in the final minute to help seal the victory.
“He’s a competitive kid,” Cherpak said. “He’s undersized, so he has that chip on his shoulder a little bit. He wanted to make plays. He took on the challenge.”
This win held special meaning for Cherpak, whose father, Rege, died on Tuesday. Cherpak said Rege followed the team closely and made it to every game until the past year or two, but he knows he would have some suggestions on things to clean up moving forward.
“He lived with me after my mom died for the last three years, and he would critique everything we did and tell me what we need to get better at,” Cherpak said. “I know he’s happy.”
A nine-time WPIAL champion and five-time PIAA champion head coach with 305 wins to his credit, Cherpak has been a part of too many memorable games to count. Still, he agreed that this one has to be one of the greatest games he has ever been a part of, and the incredible atmosphere at “The Beach” along with the shared history between the schools are two of the main reasons.
And of course, winning one for his old man is the cherry on top.
“We’ve had a lot of big wins, but it’s such a big rivalry,” Cherpak said. “It was packed. There wasn’t an open seat. It was crazy insane the whole game. It’s just a great environment for football, because the fans are right there. There’s no track.
“That’s why you play high school football right there.”
CENTRAL CATHOLIC STEAMROLLS NORTH ALLEGHENY
The hype surrounding Friday night’s clash between the top two teams in Class 6A exceeded any regular-season game in recent memory, with a sold-out crowd at North Allegheny‘s Newman Stadium causing heavy traffic hours before kickoff. But after a competitive first half, this one turned into a one-sided beatdown as No. 1 Central Catholic flexed its muscles in a 50-22 rout of the No. 2 Tigers. The Vikings received a career game from junior running back Elijah Faulkner, who tallied 32 carries for a career-high 229 yards and four TDs. Michigan recruit Cole Sullivan caught four passes for 37 yards and two TDs for Central while also wreaking havoc on defense and special teams. Read more about it by John Santa.
ALIQUIPPA SURVIVES SCARE FROM WEST ALLEGHENY
For the second year in a row, West Allegheny (3-2, 1-1) gave two-time defending WPIAL Class 4A champion Aliquippa all it could handle, but again the top-ranked Quips (4-0, 2-0) found a way to pull off a dramatic victory in the game’s final seconds, 29-22. Brock Cornell fired a go-ahead 17-yard TD pass for the Indians with 51 seconds remaining, but senior quarterback Quentin “Cheez” Goode calmly led Aliquippa down the field before firing a 34-yard TD strike to Brandon Banks with eight seconds left to clinch the win.
PETERS TOWNSHIP KNOCKS UPPER ST. CLAIR FROM RANKS OF UNBEATEN
In a showdown of two undefeated Allegheny Six Conference rivals, it was Class 5A No. 1 Peters Township that appeared to be in a league of its own in a 31-0 home win against Class 5A No. 5 Upper St. Clair (4-1, 1-1). After a scoreless first quarter, Elliot Schratz opened the floodgates with a 51-yard pick-six for the Indians (5-0, 2-0), who posted their second consecutive shutout and third in five games this season. Sophomore Nolan DiLucia completed 21-of-28 passes for 257 yards and two TDs, while junior receiver Nick McCullough enjoyed a breakout game with five catches for 113 yards and a score in the one-sided win.
FORT CHERRY HOLDS DOWN THE FORT WITH ANOTHER SHUTOUT
If you weren’t a believer yet in Fort Cherry as a legitimate Class 1A title contender, now is your last chance to hop on the bandwagon before it’s too late. The No. 2 Rangers (5-0, 2-0) pitched their second consecutive shutout in a commanding 42-0 win against visiting Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (2-3, 1-1), typically one of the strongest teams in Class 1A. Star sophomore Matt Sieg passed for 63 yards and two TDs while rushing for 66 yards and an additional score, and senior Ethan Faletto rushed three times for 47 yards and a TD while adding a 30-yard TD reception.
• Knoch carried an unbeaten record into its clash with Class 3A No. 3 Elizabeth Forward (5-0, 0-0), but the Warriors proved to be too steep a climb in competition for the Knights (4-1, 0-0). Elizabeth Forward delivered a dominant defensive performance in a 22-0 win for its second shutout of the season, lowering its season average to 7.2 ppg allowed (best in Class 3A).
• Senior quarterback Brad Birch had another monster game for Gateway (2-3, 2-0), which picked up its second consecutive victory to take an early lead in the Big East Conference standings after a stunning 0-3 start. Birch completed 17-of-24 attempts for 361 yards and two TDs in the Gators’ 49-14 win at Plum (2-3, 0-2).
• Class 3A No. 5 Seton LaSalle picked up another convincing win at Hopewell (1-4, 0-2), 42-7, and senior running back O’Malley Daly again did the bulk of the heavy lifting for the Rebels (4-1, 2-0). Daly rushed 15 times for 150 yards and four touchdowns, raising his season totals to 534 yards rushing on 68 attempts with 12 TDs.
• Beaver Falls rallied from 14 points down at the half to force overtime against Class 2A No. 3 Neshannock (4-1, 2-0), but the Lancers outlasted the Tigers, 27-26, for their fourth consecutive win. Sophomore quarterback Jino Mozzocio rushed for a 10-yard TD in the extra period to put Neshannock on top, then the Lancers defense made a game-saving stop on a 2-point conversion attempt by Beaver Falls (2-3, 1-1).
*** — Carson Bellinger, Avonworth. The Antelopes’ sophomore signal-caller kept their undefeated season going with a career game in a 38-0 win at South Park, completing 17-of-28 passes for 268 yards and four TDs with no interceptions.
** — Braylon Thomas, Union. One of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the area, Thomas put his talents on full display for the defending WPIAL Class 1A champions in a 33-14 win at Laurel, completing 11-of-19 attempts for 163 yards and two TDs through the air to go with 12 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
* — Tasso Whipple, Penn-Trafford. Whipple whipped up a performance for the ages in the Warriors’ 41-18 win against visiting Hempfield, rushing for a school-record 300 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries while adding two catches for 53 yards and a TD.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
WPIAL CLASS 6A
Tri-County Five Conference
Central Catholic 50, North Allegheny 22
Mt. Lebanon 17, Seneca Valley 14
WPIAL CLASS 5A
Allegheny Six Conference
Bethel Park 50, Baldwin 13
Peters Township 31, Upper St. Clair 0
Big East Conference
Gateway 49, Plum 14
Penn-Trafford 41, Hempfield 18
Penn Hills 34, North Hills 9
Pine-Richland 50, Fox Chapel 0
WPIAL Class 4A
Big Seven Conference
Connellsville 47, Ringgold 12
Latrobe 37, Laurel Highlands 0
McKeesport 35, Trinity 7
Greater Allegheny Conference
Hampton 32, Armstrong 27
Highlands 28, Indiana 27
North Catholic 28, Kiski Area 7
Aliquippa 29, West Allegheny 22
Central Valley 42, New Castle 14
Chartiers Valley 26, Blackhawk 14
Montour 48, Ambridge 7
WPIAL Class 3A
Western Hills Conference
Avonworth 38, South Park 0
Seton LaSalle 42, Hopewell 7
West Mifflin 28, Beaver 16
WPIAL Class 2A
Burrell 28, Yough 12
Derry 35, Apollo-Ridge 21
Steel Valley 35, Ligonier Valley 0
Keystone Oaks 18, Sto-Rox 0
McGuffey 26, Waynesburg 7
Washington 47, Brentwood 6
Freedom 21, Riverside 7
Mohawk 42, New Brighton 6
Neshannock 27, Beaver Falls 26 (OT)
Western Beaver 41, Ellwood City 18
WPIAL Class 1A
Big 7 Conference
Shenango 18, Rochester 6
Union 33, Laurel 14
Black Hills Conference
Bishop Canevin 1, Avella 0 (forfeit)
Burgettstown 40, Chartiers-Houston 0
Cornell 47, Carlynton 7
Fort Cherry 42, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart 0
Clairton 42, Leechburg 14
Tri-County South Conference
California 51, Monessen 20
Carmichaels 27, Mapletown 8
Jefferson-Morgan 42, Beth-Center 8
West Greene 39, Bentworth 6
Brashear 26, Perry 24 (OT)
Allegany, Md., 35, Albert Gallatin 0
Brownsville 36, Carrick 30 (OT)
Canon-McMillan 14, South Fayette 7
Deer Lakes 24, Southmoreland 7
East Allegheny 42, Greensburg Salem 0
Elizabeth Forward 22, Knoch 0
Erie 20, Butler 19
Franklin Regional 55, Shaler 7
Jeannette 35, Charleroi 7
Moon 26, Mars 3
Mount Pleasant 45, Freeport 23
South Side 47, Quaker Valley 7
Thomas Jefferson 24, Belle Vernon 19
University Prep 36, Wheeling C.C., W.Va. 19
Valley 38, Uniontown 6
Woodland Hills 30, Norwin 23