WPIAL Class AAA semifinal matchup: Thomas Jefferson vs. West Allegheny
Class AAA semifinals: (1) Thomas Jefferson (11-0) vs. (4) West Allegheny (10-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday, Bethel Park Stadium
West Allegheny's Zach Medved played mostly special teams when his Indians faced Thomas Jefferson in 2009, but the senior remembers clearly that semifinal victory. The postgame celebration that followed was his favorite part.
“Some of the senior guys were chanting: ‘We're going to the 'ship,' ” said Medved of the 28-21 upset that carried the Indians to Heinz Field. “Great memories like that drive you. They make you want to get back there, so you can follow in their footsteps and start chanting that after you win.”
The Indians' recent winning tradition stands almost unmatched in Class AAA, with Thomas Jefferson being the lone exception. The two Class AAA programs combined have won nine of the past 15 WPIAL titles. West Allegheny won five and Thomas Jefferson four. No other team won more than once. For the two WPIAL titans, deep playoff runs have become common.
“Both programs expect the same things,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said.
But only one will advance to Heinz Field when the teams meet again Friday night at Bethel Park under circumstances almost identical to 2009. Thomas Jefferson (11-0) enters undefeated and seeded first; West Allegheny (10-1) was again seeded fourth. The high-scoring Jaguars are favored, but the Indians' unorthodox running attack could prove troublesome once again.
Thomas Jefferson's offense starts with senior Joe Carroll, who threw three touchdowns in last week's 24-21 win over Franklin Regional. West Allegheny has shown recent success against talented passing offenses, slowing Montour in last week's 14-2 win. But this TJ offense is different, said West Allegheny coach Bob Palko.
“They don't have one guy who can catch the ball, they have about three or four,” Palko said, “and their quarterback is playing with confidence.”
West Allegheny's run-first offense has its own unique approach. Led by sophomore Chayse Dillon and junior Tory Delmonico, a wildcat quarterback, the Indians have rushed for 2,547 yards using a direct-snap attack.
“The things that they do, we haven't seen at all,” Cherpak said. “I don't like to call their offense a wildcat because it's really not. It's a power running game.”