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Thomas Jefferson one step away from trip to Heinz Field

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:53 p.m.
TJ gridders, from left, Jake Mascaro, Austin Boyd and Chase Winovich were all smiles following the Jaguars' thrilling victory over Franklin Regional in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal round last week.
Ken Eber Photography | For The South Hills Record
South Hills Record
TJ gridders, from left, Jake Mascaro, Austin Boyd and Chase Winovich were all smiles following the Jaguars' thrilling victory over Franklin Regional in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal round last week. Ken Eber Photography | For The South Hills Record

Thomas Jefferson is back on familiar turf.

After a one-year hiatus, the Jaguars have advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals for the 14th time in 15 seasons.

No. 1 seed Thomas Jefferson (11-0), which defeated Franklin Regional last week, 24-21, plays No. 5 West Allegheny (10-1), a 14-2 winner over Montour a week ago, in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinal round Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Bethel Park.

“We made some plays but we left a lot out there (against Franklin Regional),” Bill Cherpak, Thomas Jefferson's head coach, said. “We made some mistakes in the red zone, and we turned the ball over four times. And we had some uncharacteristic penalties.

“Fortunately, we were able to overcome them. I'm pleased with how we just kept coming back and kept responding.”

Meanwhile, No. 3 seed Central Valley (9-2) and No. 7 seed West Mifflin (10-1) clash in the other semifinal game.

The winning teams advance to the WPIAL Class AAA championship game next week at Heinz Field.

“These kids don't even know it is the semis,” Cherpak said. “They just know that we are playing (this) week and that's the big thing. The thing that I like about these kids is they're comfortable where they are. They're just focused on this week's game.”

Franklin Regional (8-3) was the top defensive team in Class AAA in 2012, finishing wih an 8.4 ppg average. WA has surrendered only 105 points this year and owns the second-best Class AAA defensive mark with a 9.5 ppg average.

West Allegheny has been particularly stout defensively in the second half of the 2012 season. In their last six games — all wins — the Indians allowed only 19 points. Four opponents did not score a touchdown; two were shut out.

Montour, which shared the Parkway Conference title with WA and Central Valley, was held to five points in two games by the Indians.

The Spartans, who advanced to the past two WPIAL title games, averaged 37.8 ppg in its nine wins this season, and did not score less than 27 in any of those games.

Montour's offense managed only three points in eight quarters against West Allegheny.

“Two games in a row they played us and stopped us,” Lou Cerro, Montour's head coach, said. “Hats off to them. They basically did the same thing they did to us last time. We tried to change some things, and I thought we had more chances (last week). We just didn't capitalize.”

The Indians feature four rushers led by junior Tory Delmonico, who plays Wildcat quarterback but missed last week's contest due to injury; and Chayse Dillon, another junior who ran for a game-high 131 yards on 19 carries and scored the game's only touchdowns last week.

They are complemented by sophomore Armande Dellovade and senior Nick Halbeldl.

Dillon (9), Delmonico (8), Dellovade (7) and Halbedl (6) have scored 30 touchdowns between them on the ground.

“Each one of them brings their flavor to things, their own talents,” Palko said. “It's a long season, so we try to get each one of these kids involved.”

West Allegheny has 2,576 rushing yards this season, while mustering 715 passing yards. The Indians passed for just 5 yards against Montour.

“They like getting those third-and-1s or third-and-2s and grind it out,” Cerro said.

The multiple-option attack wasn't so much by design, Palko said. But all four have been productive, so the Indians chose to use them all.

It also takes some pressure off sophomore quarterback Andrew Koester, who has passed for just 685 yards.

“(West Allegheny) runs the ball, and they run it well,” Cherpak said. “They run that Wildcat, and they're really good at it. They play a power game; they like to keep the ball. And they play great defense.

“We haven't played West Allegheny in a few years. Montour is a powerful offense, and they held them to five points. We have our work cut out for us; we're running our normal practices this week.”

Thomas Jefferson, the Big Nine Conference champion, presents a more balanced attack with 2,246 passing yards and 1,817 rushing yards this season.

But the Jaguars are known best this season for their sophisticated passing attack, led by senior quarterback Joe Carroll.

Carroll completed 16 of 28 passes for a season-best 396 yards and three touchdowns last week. He has thrown for 2,246 yards and a school-record 37 touchdowns on the season.

“This was a team win,” Carroll said last week. “Everybody stepped up.”

And Carroll has four viable targets in senior wideouts Zach Schademan, Jake Mascaro and Colton Booher, along with junior Dalton Dietrich.

Mascaro finished with a career-high nine catches for 203 yards, and snatched what-proved-to-be a game-winning 85-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-quarter slant play against Franklin Regional.

“He got past the backers and the safety and made a big play,” Carroll said.

Mascaro nabbed eight receptions for 118 yards in the first half. He is the Jaguars' leading receiver in the playoffs with 12 catches, 265 yards, and two scores.

“It's about making plays, and they made a couple more than we did,” Greg Botta, Franklin Regional's head coach, said.

“We knew they were skilled. We knew they could bust one at any time and that one at the end, the skinny post, was a backbreaker.

“Somebody made a play every time we needed it,” Cherpak said. “Jake's one of those consistent type of kids. He's played this way all year. He really stepped up for us and made some big plays.”

On the season, Mascaro has 36 receptions for 720 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Schademan, who was rested in TJ's first-round game, is the the team's leading overall receiver with 47 catches for 1,042 yards and 20 touchdowns.

“Schademan was banged up a little,” Cherpak said.

Dietrich nabbed two touchdown receptions in the third quarter versus the Panthers, covering 34 and 7 yards.

“They didn't want us to throw the ball,” Cherpak said. “They were playing off and two-deep, and we still made some plays.”

Schademan, Mascaro, Dietrich and Booher, along with senior wideout Shane Lotis, provide Carroll with one of the most dynamic receiving corps in the WPIAL.

“This is the best group of receivers we've had in (terms of) catching the ball,” Cherpak said. “They all catch with their hands. We've worked on that so much, all year long.

“Joe's not scared to go to any of our receivers.”

Thomas Jefferson, like its Parkway Conference counterpart, has been one of the leading defensive squads in Class AAA this season.

The Jaguars have allowed 128 points, an average of 11.6 ppg, and own two shutouts.

“They're just so great every year,” Botta said. “I have such respect for that program and for Cherp.”

The Jaguars limited senior running back Dane Brown, Franklin Regional's 4,000-yard career rusher, to 64 yards on 16 carries, as the Panthers managed only 61 total yards on the ground.

“We bottled him up for the most part,” Cherpak said. “That touchdown run at the end of the game was amazing. That team we beat was good. That team right there could've easily won Triple-A.”

TJ's defensive lynchpin is junior linebacker Chase Winovich, who turned in another stellar performance against Franklin Regional.

Up front, the Jaguars' defense was fortified by junior Matt Nagy and sophomore Jacob Guinn at tackle, and junior Cole Costy and sophomore Russell Siess at end.

“Franklin Regional's big and physical,” Cherpak said. “Our defensive line played really well. All four did a good job. And Colton Booher stepped up at safety for us.”

Thomas Jefferson was limited to 30 yards rushing last week.

Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or

Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or

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