Thomas Jefferson runs over Latrobe, gives coach Bill Cherpak 300th win

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Friday, November 11, 2022 | 10:37 PM


The remnants of Hurricane Nicole on Friday night forced Thomas Jefferson to go back to what it has done successfully under Bill Cherpak’s reign as coach: old-school football.

Thomas Jefferson used a strong running game and an overwhelming defense to defeat Latrobe, 21-6, in the WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinals. Latrobe (7-5) was coming off its first playoff win since its WPIAL title in 1968.

This makes it 24 times in 25 years that the No. 3 seed Jaguars (8-3) have reached the semifinals. They will face No. 2 Central Valley, which defeated Laurel Highlands.

The victory was also Cherpak’s 300th as a coach. He is the fourth coach in WPIAL history with more than 300 career wins. The other three are Jim Render with 406, Joe Hamilton with 342 and George Novak with 306. Cherpak is 300-53 in 28 seasons.

“Tonight was definitely old school,” Cherpak said. “It was definitely hard out there to do anything throwing, and we did hit a big pass. It was hard to grip the football.

“It came down to the line and running the ball. Running the ball and playing good defense was the formula that probably won most of those 300 games.”

Junior running back Elias Lippencott rushed 31 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns, and senior Aidan Whelan carried 22 times for 101 yards and a score.

“I felt the week off made us a little rusty in the first half, and we put it on the line at halftime,” Cherpak said. “We told them if we were going to win, the offensive and defensive lines had to take control, and they did. The backs ran well.”

Thomas Jefferson outgained Latrobe, 275-118, and rushed for 232 yards. Other than Robert Fulton’s 78-yard run, the Wildcats gained only 40 yards. Fulton finished with 98 yards.

Playing in heavy rain, Thomas Jefferson threatened twice in the first quarter only to be turned back by Latrobe’s defense.

“That’s what they do,” Latrobe coach Ron Prady said. “They are playoff tested. We knew when we took the lead that they weren’t going to panic. We really couldn’t control the ball offensively.”

After gaining possession on downs at their own 6, the Wildcats got out of trouble when Fulton ripped off a 78-yard run to the Thomas Jefferson 15. The Jaguars held on downs, but the Wildcats’ Corey Boerio stepped in front of a Brody Evans pass.

Two runs by Fulton put the ball at the Thomas Jefferson 1, where quarterback John Wetzel was able to get a push from his linemen to sneak on for the score with 8 minutes, 46 seconds left in the second quarter and a 6-0 lead.

Thomas Jefferson finally scored thanks to a 40-yard pass from Evans to junior Sean Sullivan, who made a diving catch between two Latrobe defenders.

“We were having trouble moving the ball,” Cherpak said. “The first half looked like we haven’t played in two weeks. The pass was big. I told him big players have to make plays, and he did.”

Lippencott, who began the drive with a 20-yard run, scored from the 1 to put the Jaguars up 7-6.

Thomas Jefferson converted two short fields into touchdowns to begin the third quarter to push the lead to 21-6.

Whalen scored on a 5-yard run to make it 14-6, and Lippencott scored from the 3 after an interception by Ryan Lawry at the Latrobe 29.

“The defense was phenomenal in the second half,” Cherpak said. “

Thomas Jefferson ran 66 plays to Latrobe’s 32.

“They really played well,” Prady said of Thomas Jefferson. “They controlled the ball most of the game. They were better than us.

“Overall we’ve accomplished a lot. You can’t speak enough about playoff experience, and now we have it. I’m proud of the effort, and we’ve come a long way.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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