South Fayette holds off No. 1 Thomas Jefferson to claim WPIAL Class 4A title

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Saturday, November 17, 2018 | 9:00 PM


With 2 minutes and 45 seconds left in the first half of Saturday evening’s WPIAL Class 4A championship game at Heinz Field, Thomas Jefferson senior running back Max Shaw found the end zone from 2 yards out.

The touchdown, Shaw’s third of the half, put the Jaguars ahead by two touchdowns. All the momentum was on Thomas Jefferson’s side.

But South Fayette didn’t waver or fade away in the face of the deficit. Instead, the Lions fought back.

A field goal before the break cut into the Jaguars’ advantage, three third-quarter scores gave South Fayette the lead, and a game-clinching interception from senior defensive back Mike Trimbur with 47 seconds left finished off a 31-24 victory.

When the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Lions had their sixth WPIAL championship and first since 2014.

“It was just a tremendous game, a lot of smiles. I’m just so proud of the kids,” South Fayette coach Joe Rossi said. “We kept chopping away.”

Thomas Jefferson forced a South Fayette punt with two minutes left in regulation, and the Jaguars set up for one last scoring attempt.

Jaguars quarterback Shane Stump, who finished with 175 passing yards, completed a 43-yard pass to Dan Deabner down to the Lions’ 11.

On third and 7 from the 8-yard line, Stump rolled out to his right and looked for open receivers in the end zone. He unleashed a bullet to Bowen Dame who was standing just beyond the goal line.

But Trimbur reacted and dove in front of Dame to pick off the pass.

From there, South Fayette took two knees to run off the remaining time.

“I was just sort of stuck on my guy, and I tried to bait (Stump) a little bit, so he would try to throw it to (Dame),” Trimbur said. “I was able to jump it. The game was sealed. There was excitement.”

Some of the seniors on the South Fayette roster remember being at Heinz Field in 2015, the last time the Lions played for a WPIAL championship.

The 2013 and ‘14 Lions squads added state titles to their WPIAL crowns.

“Freshman year, it seemed surreal,” Trimbur said. “We weren’t even on the field. This year was something I’ll never forget.”

“We wanted to write our new legacy and make it back here, and that’s what we did,” senior wide receiver and defensive back Peyton Tinney said.

The WPIAL experience that year didn’t end the way South Fayette wanted in a loss to Aliquippa, but this year’s team, despite being outgained 427 to 275 and losing time of possession 34:10 to 13:50, had the one stat that mattered most.

Thomas Jefferson, which was seeking its fourth straight WPIAL championship and ninth overall, had not scored less than 36 points in any game this season. South Fayette’s 31 was the most a team scored on the Jaguars this season.

“We did a lot of things good, but we made some crucial mistakes,” TJ coach Bill Cherpak said. “We just couldn’t sustain drives in the second half. But it was a great high school game. It was back and forth. They made some great plays, and we made some great plays. They just made one or two more at the end. We had a chance to win at the end, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Special teams played a big part in South Fayette’s comeback.

Senior kicker Ryan Coe drilled a 39-yarder with 51 seconds left in the first half to cut Thomas Jefferson’s lead to 21-10.

“That’s not a chip shot, a 40-some yarder at Heinz Field,” Rossi said. “We knew we needed points before halftime.”

Joseph Audia ripped off a long kickoff return to start the second half to set South Fayette up at the Thomas Jefferson 25. Andrew Franklin capped off the short drive with a 1-yard run to pull the Lions to within four at 21-17.

Thomas Jefferson responded with a 29-yard field goal from AJ Meshanko at the 5:06 mark of the third, but South Fayette tied it on a 10-yard connection from senior quarterback Jamie Diven to Trimbur.

Eamon Horowitz then came up big for the Lions as he blocked a punt to give them the ball at the Thomas Jefferson 18.

“Eamon Horowitz has a knack for blocking punts,” Rossi said. “It’s his fifth or sixth block in two years. He just finds a way to get it done. He came off the edge, and that was huge for us.”

Diven found Charley Rossi for what turned out to be game-winner with 27 seconds left on the third-quarter clock. The 14-yard strike and Coe point-after kick put the score at 31-24.

Diven completed 12 of 23 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Trimbur caught five passes for 138 yards, including South Fayette’s first touchdown, an 82-yard reception from Diven with 11:33 left in the first half.

The score answered Thomas Jefferson’s first touchdown, a 1-yard Shaw run on the first play of the second quarter that capped a 16-play, 72-yard drive that took 7:59 off the clock.

Shaw added a 6-yard run in the second quarter. He was the workhorse for Thomas Jefferson with 211 rushing yards on 40 carries.

South Fayette now turns its attention to the PIAA playoffs and a date with District 10 champion Cathedral Prep next Friday or Saturday in Erie.

Prep is the two-time defending PIAA Class 4A champion.

“We’ll be there and will give it our best shot,” Rossi said. “We knocked off one champ, and we’ll be ready for the next one. I am proud of these guys. We’re going to enjoy this tonight and wake up tomorrow and get ready for next week.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-388-5825, mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.

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