5 things to watch in Week 12 of high school football: TJ’s Cherpak draws Belichick comparisons

Friday, November 15, 2019 | 8:22 PM

Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak chuckles at the comparison, but maybe it’s too not farfetched?

Could Cherpak be the Bill Belichick of the WPIAL? While visiting home last weekend, New England Patriots rookie Chase Winovich made that comparison, likening his high school coach with his current NFL coach.

“He said (Belichick) is just like you with all the attention to details,” Cherpak said with a laugh.

Here’s another similarity: Cherpak might soon have eight championship rings, just like Belichick.

Top-seeded Thomas Jefferson (12-0) plays third-seeded Belle Vernon (10-1) in the WPIAL Class 4A final at 5 p.m. Saturday at Heinz Field. A TJ victory would tie Cherpak with Mt. Lebanon coach Bob Palko for most WPIAL football titles in league history.

Cherpak, who won titles in 2004, 2006-08 and 2015-17, downplayed the significance of potentially tying Palko’s record.

“It just doesn’t really do anything (for me),” Cherpak said. “You remember (each championship) in terms of the kids who were there and those types of things, but I don’t remember this is No. 6 or No. 5.”

Cherpak won his first seven with discipline, a requirement that Belichick is known to demand. Belichick owns six Super Bowl wins with the Patriots and two with the New York Giants. Winovich noticed the similarities in the way both coaches push players to be better.

“We run a disciplined organization,” Cherpak said. “We try to do the right things all the time. You see a lot of these teams and you can just tell it’s going to catch up with them sooner or later, the undisciplined play and the things that they do. It’s not hard to see.”

Players are expected to know their job, whether that’s a first-string quarterback or a third-string lineman.

“Our program has relied on working with everybody (on the roster),” Cherpak said. “We don’t just work with the first team. We don’t just work with the starters. Our coaches coach everybody.

“We don’t necessarily always have the greatest athletes or football players,” he added. “But for a lot of them, they understand what their role is and what they do.”

If that earns him comparisons to Belichick, that’s OK with Cherpak.

“That’s how we want to be viewed,” he said. “I was talking to our kids today and said now is not the time to take it easy. Now is the time to work harder. You’ve got to put your foot down on the gas. Every detail and every little thing has to be perfect.”

End of a rivalry?

Central Catholic and Pine-Richland have combined to win the past six WPIAL titles in the largest classification, a streak that will reach seven Saturday.

But their Class 6A championship could be the teams’ last matchup for a while. Unofficial enrollment numbers revealed last month by the PIAA showed Pine-Richland dropping to Class 5A while Central Catholic stays in 6A.

“It could be the last one if we go 5A,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said, “but it probably wouldn’t be for long. If we go 5A, we’re not going to be there for very long, I wouldn’t imagine. I’m sure the next cycle or two we’d be back up.”

Pine-Richland won WPIAL titles in 2014, ’17 and ’18. Central Catholic won in 2013, ’15 and ’16.

Central Catholic coach Terry Totten said he’d miss the rivalry.

“We always want to play the best around here and they’re one of the best,” Totten said. “They’re a challenge. It’s fun. It’s good for the kids. It’s good for the WPIAL.”

WPIAL wakeup call

High school football is usually played on Friday nights, but Clairton and Sto-Rox have the rare Saturday morning game. The Class A final is an 11 a.m. kickoff at Heinz Field.

The key, Clairton coach Wayne Wade said, was getting to bed early. But it’s not all that unusual in the Class A Eastern Conference, where Riverview plays Saturday afternoon home games.

“We can’t practice that early because the kids have school,” Wade said, “so it’s about getting your (internal) clock ready. Go to bed at 9 or 10 o’clock. Don’t stay up past 12. Just trying to get them ready for that early Saturday game.”

Them again?

Three of the four finals at Heinz Field are rematches from the regular season, but the timeframe for each is much different. The most recent was in Class 3A, where Central Valley defeated Tri-County West rival Aliquippa, 45-6, in Week 9.

That was only three weeks ago.

But the other two rematches were a while ago. In Class 6A, Central Catholic defeated Pine-Richland, 29-7, in Week 5. In Class 4A, Thomas Jefferson already defeated Big Eight rival Belle Vernon, 34-7, in Week 2.

Teams can change a lot in 10 weeks.

“We’re both much, much different and better teams since that time,” Cherpak said. “I’m not sure that really has any bearing on the game at all.”

Split decision

This is the fourth year that only four of the six WPIAL football championships will be at Heinz Field. The Class 5A and 2A finals are Nov. 23 at Norwin.

The Heinz Field schedule has Class A at 11 a.m., 3A at 2 p.m., 4A at 5 p.m., and 6A at 8 p.m.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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