Five things to watch in Saturday’s WPIAL football championships
By: Chris Harlan
Friday, November 16, 2018 | 6:57 PM
Saturday could be a historic night at Heinz Field for the WPIAL, Thomas Jefferson and coach Bill Cherpak.
If his Jaguars win the WPIAL Class 4A title, Cherpak would tie West Allegheny coach Bob Palko for the most titles in WPIAL history and TJ would become only the third team to win four consecutive WPIAL titles.
Braddock won six WPIAL titles in a row from 1954-59, and Clairton celebrated five straight in 2008-12.
No. 1 seed Thomas Jefferson faces No. 2 South Fayette at 5 p.m. Saturday.
For now, Cherpak is tied with hall of fame New Castle coach Phil Bridenbaugh at seven WPIAL titles, one behind Palko’s record-setting eight. Cherpak’s teams won WPIAL titles in 2004, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’15, ’16 and ’17.
2. More redemption ahead?
Can underdog Seneca Valley complete its “redemption” tour with a victory over Pine-Richland?
The Raiders lost to Central Catholic, North Allegheny and Pine-Richland in the regular season but are eliminating them one at a time in postseason rematches. They defeated Central Catholic, 15-14, in the first round and North Allegheny, 31-14, in the semifinals.
Now, No. 5 seed Seneca Valley faces second-seeded Pine-Richland in the WPIAL Class 6A final. Pine-Richland won the teams’ regular-season contest 21-7 in Week 8.
“They’re on their revenge tour up there,” Pine-Richland coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “We’ve got to make sure they don’t complete Phase 3.”
3. Long-awaited catfight
No. 2 South Fayette vs. No. 1 Thomas Jefferson is a championship matchup three years in the making.
The two powerhouse programs were also seeded first and second in 2016 and ’17, but South Fayette was upset both years before reaching Heinz Field. The Lions lost a semifinal to Montour last year, and were eliminated in the first round by New Castle a year earlier.
“We finally held up our end of the deal,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “TJ has been there, everybody’s been waiting for it and we haven’t got it done. We finally held out our end of the deal … so I’m proud of these kids for fighting and getting back to Heinz.”
South Fayette won WPIAL Class 2A titles in 2010, ’13 and ’14, and was runner-up in 2015. The Lions jumped to Class 4A in 2016 when football expanded to six classifications.
4. Offensive opposites
There’s no greater contrast in styles Saturday than in the Class A championship.
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart quarterback Tyler Bradley has thrown 42 touchdowns this season while Rochester quarterback Zaine Jeffers has thrown only 35 passes.
Bradley is the WPIAL’s top passer with 3,059 yards.
What Rochester does very well is run the ball. Running back Noah Whiteleather has 1,913 yards and 26 touchdowns on 254 attempts. The Rams’ only loss was to Big Seven rival OLSH, 37-8, in Week 3.
5. Quips hold historic advantage
For the second year in a row, the Class 3A final matches tradition-rich Aliquippa against an opponent that has a far shorter championship resume.
That didn’t work out well for the Quips a year ago, when Quaker Valley won 2-0 for its first title. This time Derry makes its first WPIAL championship appearance.
Derry has championship experience in its distant history.
Predecessor Derry Township was declared champion in 1930 and was WPIAL runner-up in 1945, but Derry Area hasn’t reached the finals since a 1956 merger.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at email@example.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.