Thomas Jefferson routs Belle Vernon for 9th WPIAL football championship

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Saturday, November 16, 2019 | 8:43 PM


Experience matters in the WPIAL football finals.

Teams that have been there and done that always seem to have a significant edge over teams that don’t quite have a feel for the championship atmosphere.

Thomas Jefferson is a gleaming example.

While names on the roster change and jersey numbers get passed on, the Jaguars simply are a regular at Heinz Field.

Thomas Jefferson, playing in its fifth straight district title game, captured its ninth WPIAL championship — its fourth since 2015 and eighth in the 2000s — with a 41-7, mercy-rule victory over Belle Vernon on Saturday night.

The WPIAL Class 4A title game was all Thomas Jefferson (13-0) from the start as the Jaguars eliminated the bad taste of a loss to South Fayette in last year’s final and soundly handled fellow conference foe Belle Vernon (10-2).

Senior running back Dylan Mallozzi scored four touchdowns, three before halftime, and rushed for 178 yards on 27 carries, and senior quarterback Shane Stump ran for two more scores for the Jaguars, who built a 35-0 lead by the break.

“Before the game, I was kind of envisioning every scenario,” Stump said. “I couldn’t imagine coming here and losing two times in a row. I just thought we were going to come out and dominate the line of scrimmage like we did and make plays.”

Belle Vernon lacked the title-game familiarity because the Leopards had not played in the finals since 1999 — at Three Rivers Stadium.

They were seeking their first title since 1995 but struggled to move the ball or build momentum against a fast Jaguars’ defense.

“We had a lot of opportunities in the first and second quarters, but we didn’t make the plays,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “We couldn’t put the ball where it needed to be. I don’t think the spotlight was too bright for our guys. We just needed to play better.”

Thomas Jefferson piled up 339 yards to the Leopards’ 60. Belle Vernon had 13 rushing yards.

Thomas Jefferson’s defense, one of the best in the state, suffocated a team averaging 48 points. The Jaguars are now allowing 3.6 points a game.

The win came with a bonus: Jaguars coach Bill Cherpak tied Bob Palko for the most WPIAL football titles by a coach, with eight.

Palko, now the coach at Mt. Lebanon, won eight titles at West Allegheny.

“It doesn’t matter,” Cherpak said of the record. “I’m not into that. (The players) have done all the work. You just want consistency in your program. These guys really don’t know anything different than being here at Heinz Field. They deserve all the credit because they have worked hard. It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be easy.”

Stump scored on a short quarterback sneak and Mallozzi added a 12-yard scoring run in the first quarter as the Jaguars took a 13-0 lead.

“Coach Cherp doesn’t care about the numbers,” Stump said. “He cares about the people he has coached.”

“We lose track of the years and the wins,” senior receiver Daniel Deabner said. “It’s all about getting the job done.”

Hunter Ruokonen blocked the extra point on the second score, but the Jaguars still went on to inflict the mercy rule.

“Shane made a lot of calls at the line of scrimmage tonight,” Cherpak said. “He called a good game. We made some big plays. But overall I think our offensive line dominated the game. Stats or anything, I’m not into that, but it looked pretty good from where I was standing.”

Mallozzi added touchdown runs of 4 and 16 yards, and Stump scrambled right and stretched out inside the pylon for a 3-yard score just before the half.

A 2-point conversion run by Mallozzi made it 35-0 at halftime.

Nolan Labuda broke up the shutout for Belle Vernon with a touchdown catch from Jared Hartman late in the third quarter. Labuda tip-toed the line as he crept just inside the far pylon.

But Mallozzi dashed right into open field for a 39-yard score in the fourth.

Magnanimous in victory, Cherpak credited Belle Vernon for extending its season this far.

“Matt has done a great job there; they’re back to winning,” Cherpak said. “You need stability in your program to win. They have some really good players.”

It was the teams’ fifth meeting in the last three years. Thomas Jefferson rolled past the Leopards in Week 2, 34-7. That was a 7-7 game at halftime. This one was over by halftime.

“We had a bad game that night; people think we got lucky or something,” Cherpak said. “We were much better tonight, especially our defense and our line. I’m happy for our kids. We stayed out of the papers and off social media this week and let them do all the talking.”

Belle Vernon scored 20 consecutive points last week to bump aside defending champion South Fayette, 41-30.

Ian Hansen had an interception for Thomas Jefferson.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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