Thomas Jefferson caps dream season with program’s 4th PIAA football title

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Sunday, December 15, 2019 | 11:48 AM


The last time Thomas Jefferson advanced to the PIAA football championship, this season’s seniors were in first grade.

The upperclassmen were determined to end an 11-year drought, and they did with a resounding 46-7 victory against Dallas on Dec. 5 at Hersheypark Stadium.

“I’ve been dreaming (about) this since I was 6 years old,” senior QB/DB Shane Stump said after the game. “We saw the prize at the end, and we wanted to go out right. At the end of the day, we’re state champs. You can’t ask for more than that.”

TJ, which belted Belle Vernon, 41-7, to claim its fourth WPIAL title in five years, wrapped up the season with a 16-0 record.

Coach Bill Cherpak celebrated his 25th season with his fourth state championship to go along with eight WPIAL titles.

“Eight or nine of the seniors started as sophomores,” Cherpak said. “They rededicated themselves (after 2018), and they put a lot of pressure on themselves. They set the bar so high for themselves. This is their legacy. I’m just so proud of everybody involved.”

Both finalists cruised to victories in the semifinals. TJ routed Lampeter-Strasburg, 44-2. Dallas rolled past Jersey Shore, 56-28.

The Jaguars also won state titles in 2004, ’07 and ’08, and are tied with Central Catholic and Clairton as WPIAL teams with four PIAA championships.

“They’re all special for the kids involved,” Cherpak said. “The greatest thing about this group is that it was a total team effort. There was no selfishness or individuals on our team. Everyone had one goal, and that was to win a state championship. That is very rare in high school sports these days. I am so proud of all the players and assistant coaches for the dedication and hard work throughout not only the season but the preseason leading up to it.

“It was definitely one of the most enjoyable years of my coaching career.”

TJ averaged 46.2 points and allowed 4.1 points with six shutouts. The Jaguars surrendered only 69 points.

“The defense has been incredible all year,” Cherpak said. “The defensive staff and players and everyone all pulled together.”

Playing on the state’s biggest stage, several TJ players turned in big-time performances against the Mountaineers.

Stump accounted for five touchdowns, running for four and throwing one. He was near-perfect in the passing department, hitting on 7 of 8 attempts for 105 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown to senior Dan Deabner.

On the season, Stump completed 130 of 223 passes for 2,664 yards and 36 touchdowns with just one interception.

Stump scored on runs of 14 and 6 yards and twice on 1-yard plunges against Dallas. He picked up 55 yards on 10 carries and also recorded five unassisted tackles at safety.

Senior Dylan Mallozzi rambled for 216 yards and one score on 24 carries, ending the year with 1,760 yards and 28 touchdowns on 219 carries.

In six playoff contests, Mallozzi rushed for 966 yards and 11 scores on 126 attempts, averaging 161 yards on 21 carries.

“Winning the state championship is something my teammates and I have dreamed of since youth football,” Mallozzi said. “I’ve played football with these guys since I was 6, and getting to win the state championship with them means everything to us. The seniors knew we didn’t want to have our last game end with a loss. This year was definitely a special one I’ll never forget.”

Mallozzi, like many of his teammates, attended Jefferson Elementary School as a first-grader.

“I’ll never forget when the (TJ) football team walked through giving everyone high-fives, and it was just a great experience. It made me want to grow up and be able to do what they were doing,” Mallozzi said. “And then 11years later, we were able to accomplish what that group did. It’s just awesome to know that you did the same thing as the 2008 state championship team that had so much talent.”

Senior Ian Hansen played perhaps his best game against the Mountaineers with four receptions for 49 yards, two interceptions and two unassisted tackles.

Finally, the Jaguars offensive line, consisting of three seniors, Logan Danielson (RG), Mac Duda (RT) and Michael Huber (LT), and two juniors, Jake Krawczyk (LG) and Nick Trainor (C), provided most of the blocking for Mallozzi and Stump.

“It was amazing to finally accomplish our goal of winning the state. It was a goal of ours since we were young,” said Danielson, who was named the first recipient of the Bill Fralic Memorial Award, given to the WPIAL’s top lineman.

“I am sad that my TJ football career has come to an end, but I have no regrets. We have had a great team all four years.”

Martinis and junior Jack Konick, along with Werderber from his fullback post, also were catalysts as blockers against Dallas.

“Winning the state championship has been a lifelong goal of mine,” Martinis said. “It really has been a dream come true. It was definitely the best experience of my life so far, and I’ll never forget a second of it. Not many players get the chance to finish their career on a win, so I am very grateful for that.”

Mallozzi experienced a great postseason stretch for the Jaguars.

“I can’t thank the coaches enough who helped me develop into the player I am today,” Mallozzi said. “Playing football at TJ is more than just football. The bonds and relationships you make are some you’ll never forget. The lessons you learn and the growth you see in yourself and others are things that not a lot of people get to experience. It was just an honor to play at TJ.”

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