Memorable moments from a championship night for Thomas Jefferson

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Friday, November 22, 2019 | 6:03 PM


The Thomas Jefferson football team won its fourth WPIAL title in five years with a 41-7 victory over Belle Vernon in the Class 4A championship game Nov. 16 at Heinz Field. Here’s a chronological look from the sidelines at the game’s most memorable moments.

FIRST QUARTER

• The game’s opening kickoff takes place at 6:06 p.m.

• TJ coach Bill Chepak said years ago that if given the option, the Jaguars always defer to the second half to receive a kickoff. The Jaguars won the toss and, yes, deferred. Dylan Sullivan, who doubled as a TJ soccer player this fall, is the Jaguars’ senior kicking specialist.

• In a bit of a quirk, conference rivals Thomas Jefferson and Belle Vernon start the game with identical 48.3 ppg offensive averages. There is a significant difference on defense, however. Through 12 contests, TJ had allowed a WPIAL-best 3.3 ppg. BV’s average was 10.8 ppg.

• It’s fortunate for the Jaguars that BV senior wideout Hunter Ruokonen stepped out of bounds on a long pass from senior QB Jared Hartman. Ruokonen could have waltzed into the end zone on a blown coverage by the Jaguars.

• Dan Deabner, a senior WR, sets up TJ’s first offensive possession with a 10-yard punt return. The Jaguars march 73 yards in eight plays, capped by senior QB Shane Stump’s 1-yard touchdown plunge at the 6:37 mark. A pivotal play on the drive is a timely 27-yard reception by junior WR Ian Hansen.

• It appears the Jaguars are hitting on all cylinders. Sparked by inside linebacker Nathan Werderber, the TJ defense dials up the pressure and forces a three-and-out. Werderber, a 6-foot, 200-pound senior, plans to join the U.S. Marines after an early graduation from high school.

• Untimely penalties (Is there ever a timely one?) hurt the Leopards significantly on TJ’s second set of downs. Stump lofts a pass to Deabner in the middle of the field. Deabner and his defender get their feet tangled up. The Leopards are assessed a costly pass interference penalty (Is there ever a flag that isn’t costly?).

• A little later, Stump’s toss intended for junior WR Preston Zandier almost becomes a devastating pick-six by BV junior defender Dane Anden. It ends up being an incompletion.

• Stump bolts 21 yards on a QB draw, moving the Jaguars into BV territory. Dylan Mallozzi, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior RB and the team’s leading rusher, makes it 13-0 with an outstanding effort on a 12-yard TD jaunt. The right side of the Jaguars’ line surges forward to open a huge hole. TJ marches 48 yards in 10 plays. Ruokonen blocks the PAT.

SECOND QUARTER

• If Belle Vernon doesn’t respond soon with any type of an offensive punch, it could turn into a long night for the Leopards.

• The TJ defense, led by Werderber and senior OLB Bowen Dame, records another three-and-out. Just two plays later, Mallozzi scores on a 4-yard TD dash. There’s nothing fancy about it, as the Jaguars’ offensive line again effectively paves the way.

• The WPIAL mercy rule doesn’t take place in many championship games; it’s beginning to look like that’s where this one is headed. The score is 20-0 with 10 minutes, 25 seconds to go.

• Belle Vernon’s finally able to move into TJ territory. However, two incomplete passes, sandwiched around a 2-yard run by senior RB Larry Callaway, generates a punting situation. On the next play, Stump connects with Deabner, his favorite target the past two seasons, on a 59-yard completion. Game over.

• The Jaguars seal the edge on Mallozzi’s ensuing 16-yard scamper around left end, as TJ’s 1,000-yard rusher races untouched into the end zone at the 6:02 mark. There was so much open real estate that Werderber essentially has no one to block on the play. Mallozzi’s well on his way to another big night for the Jaguars.

• TJ’s defensive players remain relentless in their pursuit of the Leopards’ rushing attack. It’s almost as if the Jaguars are running downhill at times.

• TJ starts its fifth offensive series with 2:54 remaining. On the final play of the half — a gutsy call on fourth-and-goal — Stump reaches paydirt on a 3-yard burst, squeezing into the end zone inside the right pylon. Werderber and Mallozzi supply key blocks. The Jaguars extend their lead to 35-0 on Mallozzi’s successful 2-point conversion run. To BV’s dismay, it’s mercy rule time.

• Halftime statistics are lopsided as a result the phenomenal all-around performance by the TJ squad. The Jaguars were 5 for 5 in red-zone possessions and 4 for 4 in third-down conversions. BV was 0 for 5 in attempting to move the sticks on third down.

THIRD QUARTER

• Second-half action starts out slowly, then picks up slightly. An interception by junior CB Ian Hansen in the shadow of his goal post keeps the Leopards scoreless. Three straight runs by Mallozzi vaults him over the 100-yard rushing mark, but the Jaguars eventually punt.

• Belle Vernon avoids a shutout on its only sustained drive of the night. Senior wideout Nolan Labuda makes a nice 5-yard TD grab on a Hartman pass with 1:04 to go.

• Stump, Dame, Werderber and junior end Jack Konick stand out defensively in the third period.

FOURTH QUARTER

• TJ responds to the Leopards’ score with a six-play, 77-yard march capped by yet another Mallozzi touchdown with 8:36 left, making it 41-7. Mallozzi’s fourth score was a brilliant 39-yard jaunt, as the right side of the line, sparked by seniors Logan Danielson (RG), Mac Duda (RT) and James Martinis (TE), provides punishing blocks.

• Several TJ gridders, such as Hansen, Dame, Stump, Martinis and Konick, turn in exceptional individual efforts on Belle Vernon’s final possession. The Leopards ended up dropping a handful of passes in the contest which didn’t help their cause.

• At 8:28 p.m., the Jaguars set up in victory formation. After securing their season-long goal of winning the WPIAL crown with another dominating performance, the Jaguars’ celebration begins.

• Cherpak tries to halt — to no avail — an ensuing Gatorade shower from his players. He logs his eighth career WPIAL championship. All in all, it’s a high-yielding night for the TJ football program.

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