Dominant in Class AAA over past 15 years, TJ, West Allegheny square off in semis
West Allegheny's Zach Medved played mostly special teams when his Indians faced Thomas Jefferson in 2009, but the senior can remember 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 West Allegheny 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, long playoff runs have become common.
“It's similar in both districts,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “Both programs expect the same things.”
However, only one can advance to Heinz Field when the teams meet Friday night at Bethel Park under circumstances very similar to 2009. Thomas Jefferson (11-0) enters undefeated and seeded first; West Allegheny (10-1) again has the fourth seed. 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 has thrown for 2,246 yards and leads the WPIAL with 37 touchdown passes. Carroll threw three in last week's 24-21 victory over Franklin Regional.
West Allegheny has shown recent success against talented passing offenses, having held high-scoring Montour to just two points in last week's 14-2 victory. But this TJ offense is different, West Allegheny coach Bob Palko said.
“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. He's fun to watch. Seriously, you catch yourself becoming a fan (while watching film) rather than trying to figure out how to stop him.”
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, at times, a direct-snap attack. Only Mars (3,210) and West Mifflin (3,027) have rushed for more yards in Class AAA. Dillon scored twice a week ago on runs of 11 and 56 yards. But other backfield options are available.
“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. We just have to be ready for anything.”
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.