5 things we learned in Week 11: Bill Cherpak joins ‘role model’ George Novak in WPIAL’s 300 club

Sunday, November 13, 2022 | 4:01 PM

Bill Cherpak could’ve succeeded in whatever career path he pursued, says his former high school football coach, recalling how the Steel Valley graduate already was a bright leader in those days.

“He probably could’ve been a nuclear physicist or something, but he likes football,” said George Novak, who can understand his calling to coach as well as anyone.

Until this week, Novak was one of only three football coaches in WPIAL history who’d won 300 career games. But that list added a fourth name when Cherpak won his 300th game Friday night in his 28th season at Thomas Jefferson. The Jaguars defeated Latrobe, 21-6, in a WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinal.

Cherpak’s record is 300-53, along with nine WPIAL championships and five state titles.

“Billy has had an unbelievable career,” said Novak, who retired in 2016 with 306 career wins at Steel Valley and Woodland Hills. “He knows football. He knows kids. He makes it fun. … When I was at Steel Valley, he was one of the leaders on the team. He’s always been a leader. He was part of us building that program.

“He’s just a great kid.”

A 1985 Steel Valley graduate who later played at Pitt, Cherpak briefly coached on Novak’s staff as a Woodland Hills assistant and got his start at Thomas Jefferson under the late Jack Garrity, another branch on Novak’s coaching tree.

Cherpak downplayed his personal achievement as a 300-game winner, but being recognized alongside Novak was an accomplishment he said he’ll always cherish.

“Any time you’re mentioned in the same sentence with him, it’s obviously pretty special,” Cherpak said. “He coached me in high school and growing up he was always someone I looked up to. He was a role model as a coach for me.”

The only other WPIAL coaches with 300 wins are Jim Render and Joe Hamilton. Render won 406 games at Upper St. Clair, Uniontown and Carrollton, Ohio. Hamilton won 342 at Blackhawk, Hempfield, New Brighton and Midland.

Cherpak has averaged 10.7 wins per season over his coaching career, a number that has increased to 11.7 since 2002. At 55 years old, Cherpak could match the wins total of Novak, Hamilton and maybe Render, depending largely on how long Cherpak wants to keep going.

“He’s going to far pass me up,” Novak said, “but I’m happy for him. It’s an honor to have that many wins. I think he got them a lot faster than I did.”

Weather forecast was correct

The remnants of tropical storm Nicole drenched Western Pennsylvania with a couple of inches of rain as predicted by meteorologists, but the WPIAL completed all 20 games on the schedules.

That’s not to say the weather didn’t have an effect. The contest most impacted was Ligonier Valley vs. Beaver Falls in a Class 2A quarterfinal, which was delayed just before kickoff by a power outage.

“The word was that the power wouldn’t come on until possibly 9 or 9:15, so we said, ‘OK, let’s kind of weigh our options here,’ ” Beaver Falls athletic director Jim Carbone said. “I gave (athletic director) Zack Hayward a call at Blackhawk and asked him if their site was available and if he could flip their lights on for us.”

Hayward said yes, just give him 30 minutes.

So, the two teams got back on their buses and the game was moved from Geneva College’s Reeves Field to Blackhawk’s stadium about seven miles away.

“The one thing we didn’t want was for Ligonier to have to turn around and drive home and worry about getting back on Saturday,” Carbone said. “That’s a 2-hour trip. (Beaver Falls principal Doug Rowe) called the WPIAL office and they gave him to go-ahead for us to go to Blackhawk.”

Beaver Falls won 52-0. The attendance was better than expected for a night with heavy rain, Carbone said. Once word spread that the game was officially moving, there was a caravan from one stadium to the other.

“It couldn’t have happened without the collective effort of the WPIAL office for letting us make that move,” Carbone said. “And thank goodness to Blackhawk, their school district and their athletic department for accommodating us.”

More upsets in Class A

When the top four seeds in a classification all reach the semifinals, the WPIAL football committee considers that a job well done in pairing the brackets.

The committee was on the mark in Class 2A where No. 1 Steel Valley, No. 2 Beaver Falls, No. 3 Sto-Rox and No. 4 Neshannock remain in contention.

However, Class A is a different story.

Three of the top four seeds are gone and two double-digit seeds remain. Reaching the Class A semifinals are No. 1 Bishop Canevin, No. 5 South Side, No. 10 Union and No. 14 Rochester.

The upsets continued on Friday. Union defeat No. 2 Laurel, 30-28. Rochester topped No. 6 Fort Cherry, 30-14.

In hindsight, the football committee likely underestimated the Big Seven, a conference that’s home to three of the four remaining teams. Since Union and Rochester meet in the semifinals, a team with a double-digit seed is guaranteed to reach the WPIAL finals.

A year makes a difference

There were many similarities between this season and last for Steel Valley, which celebrated consecutive undefeated regular seasons and was seeded No. 1 in Class 2A playoffs two years in a row.

But the Ironmen want those similarities to end now, and quarterback Cruce Brookins made an on-field statement Friday night that this year will be different. The senior rushed for 332 yards and six touchdowns to defeat McGuffey, 46-13, in the quarterfinals.

A year ago, the Ironmen were WPIAL favorites when then-leading rusher Nijhay Burt suffered a season-ending leg injury in the quarterfinals. That ultimately doomed their season and they lost a week later.

This year, with their star quarterback leading the way, Steel Valley seems to have momentum on its side.

From 0-2 to WPIAL finals

This was a trying year for the Central Catholic football team, which started 0-2 in the conference, lost four of its first seven games overall and endured some midseason turmoil when a longtime assistant resigned.

Yet, for the fourth year in a row and the ninth time in 10 seasons, Central Catholic is headed to the WPIAL finals. The Vikings (7-4) face North Allegheny (10-1) in the Class 6A championship at 6 p.m. Saturday at Norwin.

“It means so much to us, just to be able to go back there,” said quarterback Payton Wehner, who threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more in Friday’s 28-7 win over Mt. Lebanon.

Central Catholic could win its sixth WPIAL title since 2013. During that span the team won the WPIAL’s largest classification in 2020, ’19, ’16, ’15 and ’13.

The Vikings were the WPIAL runners-up last season.

The Class 5A championship matchup is also set. No. 5 Upper St. Clair (10-2) will face No. 2 Pine-Richland (9-3) at noon Saturday at Norwin.

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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