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WPIAL Class AAA semifinal preview: Central Valley vs. Thomas Jefferson

Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Thomas Jefferson's Chase Winovich (15) runs the ball against Highlands' Weston Bernath (46) during their WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal playoff game Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, at Chartiers Valley High School.

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PLAYER TO WATCH

JordanWhitehead

Central Valley

RB/WR/CB, Jr.

6-foot, 180 pounds

Whitehead has moved around the offense much more since a loss to West Allegheny. Rather than strictly being a tailback, his new slotback role resembles that used last season by Robert Foster, who's now at Alabama.

how they got here

TJ: Beat No. 15 Hampton, 39-0, in the first round; beat No. 7 Highlands, 23-14, in the quarterfinals.

CV: Beat No. 14 Belle Vernon, 40-7, in the first round; beat No. 6 Mars, 35-21, in the quarterfinals.

statistical leaders

TJ: Passing: Christian Breisinger, 42-75-734, 9 TDs; Rushing: Austin Kemp, 134-1,090, 17 TDs; Receiving: Dalton Dietrich, 43-798, 8 TDs.

CV: Passing: John George, 24-44-395, 5 TDs; Rushing: JaQuan Pennington, 97-685, 3 TDs; Receiving: Jordan Whitehead, 17-247, 3 TDs.

by the numbers

TJ: All-time: 399-193-7

Playoff appearances: 25

Last title: 2008

CV: All-time: 40-9-0

Playoff appearances: 4

Last title: 2010

PREDICTION

Thomas Jefferson, 28-21.

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class AAA Semifinals

Central Valley (10-1) vs. Thomas Jefferson (11-0)

7:30 p.m. Friday at Chartiers Valley

Thomas Jefferson has tested the notion that games aren't won in the first quarter, despite what coaches like to say. Only one first-quarter touchdown has been allowed all season by the Jaguars, who've outscored opponents, 133-7, in those first 12 minutes.

“TJ wants to impose its will on other teams,” said Central Valley coach Mark Lyons. “We've got to withstand that initial surge, settle into what we do and let them know this isn't going to be a pushover like they're used to.”

Thomas Jefferson has the highest-scoring offense (40.9 ppg) and the stingiest defense (6.4 ppg) in Class AAA. But Central Valley, the Parkway runner-up, believes it's the best all-around team the Big 9 champ has met.

“They're the best team I've seen on film this year,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “We have to control the ball to keep their offense off the field.”

The semifinals aren't new to either team. Thomas Jefferson has reached the final four in 14 of the past 15 seasons. Central Valley lost in the semifinals the past two seasons since winning the WPIAL title in 2010.

“The last couple years, losing at the end maybe toughened us up a little more,” Lyons said.

Both teams have a Division I recruit who starts both ways. Central Valley is led by junior Jordan Whitehead, a slotback and cornerback. TJ has leaned on its offensive line and senior Chase Winovich, a Michigan linebacker recruit who also plays quarterback.

Winovich rushed for 200 yards and three TDs in last week's 23-14 quarterfinal victory over Highlands.

A week ago, Whitehead scored on a 92-yard kickoff return, a 74-yard run and a 6-yard pass.

— Chris Harlan

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