After winning past 3 WPIAL titles, Thomas Jefferson chasing program history

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018 | 10:42 PM


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Seven WPIAL championships and three PIAA titles.

A total of 18 conference crowns in the past 23 seasons.

The Thomas Jefferson football program has set the standard for excellence for high school teams in Western Pennsylvania.

This year's squad has the chance to make program history.

In 2018, the Jaguars can become the first TJ team to win a fourth consecutive WPIAL football title.

"As always, I expect us to compete for the conference, WPIAL and state titles," coach Bill Cherpak said. "We lost some very good players to graduation but started many underclassmen last year, so I expect us to be very competitive and challenge for those titles."

Thomas Jefferson captured three straight WPIAL championships from 2006-08 and from 2015-17.

The Jaguars suffered heavy graduation losses this past spring, as eight of the 12 all-conference selections graduated.

Last year's squad consisted of 23 seniors, 13 juniors, 14 sophomores and 16 freshmen.

Two current seniors, center Dom Serapiglia and kicking specialist A.J. Meshanko; and two juniors, quarterback Shane Stump and lineman Logan Danielson, are returning all-conference players.

"We're looking good right now," Serapiglia said. "We're getting our timing down and experimenting with some stuff and moving some players around, but all in all we're looking very solid. We've been doing a lot of drills, and we're starting to do more team stuff.

"We're on great pace to be exactly where we want to be. We just have to get a little nastier going into camp."

Other returning starters include juniors James Martinis, at tight end/linebacker; Dan Deabner, at wide receiver/defensive back; and Mac Duda, an offensive/defensive lineman; as well as senior Max Shaw, at running back/linebacker.

Martinis led the Jaguars' defense in total tackles last year; Danielson was No. 1 in sacks.

Shaw, who had three interceptions last year, capped a brilliant 2017-18 wrestling season with third-place showing at 182 pounds at both the PIAA and WPIAL Class AAA tournaments.

A team captain, Shaw finished 34-4 on the mats, and led the Jaguars in technical falls.

Stump, Martinis, Deabner and Pugh all competed in basketball last winter.

Serapiglia (6-2, 285) is a four-year starter for the Jaguars, and a long-snapping specialist. He attended camps for offensive linemen at Pitt, Youngstown State and New Hampshire in the offseason.

Serapiglia can become the first player in program history to be a starter on four WPIAL championship teams.

"Our early expectations are to just keep getting better every rep, every practice and every day," he said. "Everyone knows TJ's expectations are never different, and that is to go undefeated and win the conference, win the WPIAL and (this year) get the four-peat, then make it to Hershey in December and win the state championship."

TJ ended up with an 8-1 regular-season record, outscoring the opposition by a 393-42 margin, then stormed through the playoffs to a third straight WPIAL title.

Overall, the Jaguars outscored the opposition 506-90, averaging 38.9 ppg while surrendering 6.9 ppg.

TJ (11-2 overall) amassed 4,595 yards in total offense, including 2,987 yards on the ground. The Jaguars averaged 353.5 yards in total offense per game, and 229.8 yards rushing per game.

Defensively, TJ posted seven shutouts, including three in the WPIAL playoffs.

The Jaguars held eight teams to under 100 total yards, and limited Ringgold to 11 total offensive yards and two first downs (one by penalty).

Longtime rival Belle Vernon was limited to 16 total offensive yards and one first down by TJ in the WPIAL playoffs.

Schedule

Coach: Bill Cherpak

2017 record: 11-2, 7-1

All-time record: 444-201-7

Date, Opponent, Time

8.31, Ringgold*, 7:30 p.m.

9.7, at Belle Vernon*, 7 p.m.

9.14, Indiana*, 7:30 p.m.

9.21, Trinity*, 7:30 p.m.

9.28, at Connellsville, 7 p.m.

10.5, Central Valley, 7:30 p.m.

10.12, at Laurel Highlands*, 7:30 p.m.

10.19, Greensburg Salem*, 7:30 p.m.

10.26, at West Mifflin*, 7:30 p.m.

*Class 4A Big 8 Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Shane Stump

84-179, 1,608 yards, 24 TDs

Rushing: Justin Vigna*

262-1,908 yards, 23 TDs

Receiving: Garret Fairman*

51-948 yards, 11 TDs

*Graduated

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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