Thomas Jefferson slows Central Valley’s big-play offense in nonconference clash

Friday, October 4, 2019 | 10:10 PM

Central Valley has the type of athlete-heavy spread offense that’s caused Thomas Jefferson trouble in recent years.

See TJ’s season-ending losses to Erie’s Cathedral Prep in 2015, ’16 and ’17, or South Fayette’s win last November in the WPIAL finals. But this year’s TJ defense has taken a new approach, which was clear in Friday night’s 28-3 nonconference victory over Central Valley.

The big-play Warriors had one long gain, a 50-yard reception in the first quarter, but were otherwise contained.

“We’ve changed some things that we do because that’s the game now,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “The game isn’t just line up and smash them in the mouth. Teams aren’t going to play like that against us. We realize that now. We’ve learned.”

Thomas Jefferson senior Dylan Mallozzi rushed for 157 yards and three touchdowns, and the Jaguars defense was dominant once again in the victory at Sarge Alberts Stadium. TJ has allowed only 33 points combined in seven games, but this was the team’s first against what Cherpak called “an Erie Prep-type team.”

“Getting the opportunity in a game like this,” Cherpak said, “to try those things and see how they came out, really makes a difference.”

Both teams entered undefeated with Thomas Jefferson (7-0) ranked first in WPIAL Class 4A, and Central Valley (6-1) second in Class 3A. It was a revival of sorts for two old rivals that used to meet in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.

“They’re not No. 1 in the state in 4A by accident,” Central Valley coach Mark Lyons said. “It was a battle. … Our guys are crushed. They didn’t just come in here to make a showing; they wanted to win.”

Thomas Jefferson’s plan was for defensive tackles Logan Danielson and Michael Huber to stop Central Valley’s running game in the middle and force the Warriors to the outside. It worked. Central Valley rushed for 48 yards on 28 carries, and quarterback Ameer Dudley passed for only 103 yards.

“The South Fayette game motivates us each and every game,” Danielson said. “They had a passing attack, and the athletes they have are a little bit like South Fayette’s, but we went out there and smacked them.”

The Jaguars have had dominant defenses in the past, but this one is starting to take shape.

They sacked Dudley four times Friday and twice stopped Central Valley drives inside the 20-yard line. On the most dramatic, TJ’s Daniel Deabner made a fourth-down tackle on the 1-yard line.

Combined, the past four opponents scored 10 points.

“They’re coming together,” Cherpak said. “Those two D-tackles control the middle so well and don’t allow teams to do anything inside there.”

This nonsection game won’t impact playoff qualifying but it did provided both teams with a test.

This was the first time all season that TJ played its starters into the fourth quarter. The team also faced its first deficit all year — 3-0 — but the Jaguars used a strong ground game and a stout defense to stay unbeaten.

Mallozzi, who had 20 carries, scored on runs of 5, 12 and 12 yards. The Jaguars’ other score was a 15-yard touchdown pass from Shane Stump to James Martinis.

Stump completed 8 of 15 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.

Central Valley’s Ethan Ott kicked a 34-yard field goal on the Warriors’ first possession, causing Thomas Jefferson to trail for the first time all season.

But TJ responded with four touchdown drives, including a 14-play, 99-yard possession that consumed more than 9½ minutes in the third and fourth quarters.

“That was nice,” Cherpak said. “The thing that was nice about it was everybody — receivers, linemen, quarterback, running back — they all said lets pound it. Everybody was on the same page. We wanted to use the clock.”

TJ trailed 3-0 after one quarter but led 14-3 at halftime and 21-3 after three.

Central Valley had second-half drives stall at TJ’s 1- and 17-yard lines.

“We never let them get real momentum,” Cherpak said. “Whenever they got down there we stopped them.”

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

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