TJ, Brentwood show second half superiority

Friday, September 13, 2019 | 6:52 PM

Two area football teams won huge Week 2 conference games, both on their home turf.

Thomas Jefferson roared to a 34-7 victory against rival Belle Vernon, while Brentwood rallied to win a 34-23 decision against rival Seton LaSalle.

TJ and Brentwood combined to outscore their opponents by a 49-0 margin in the second half of their games.

The Jaguars snapped loose from a 7-7 halftime tie by rattling off 27 unanswered second half points.

“We made a few defensive adjustments and one or two on offense,” coach Bill Cherpak said. “It really was more a matter of making plays than anything else. We just didn’t make any plays in the first half.”

Brentwood roared back from a 17-point second quarter deficit to rack up the game’s final 28 points, including a 22-0 run after halftime. The Spartans trailed 23-6 in the second quarter and 23-12 at intermission.

Let’s take a look at both team’s heroic performances:

Thomas Jefferson 34, Belle Vernon 7

Thomas Jefferson took a big step toward clinching the Class 4A Big 8 Conference championship with its stirring win in front of a capacity crowd at TJ Stadium.

Yes, the No. 1 Jaguars still had five contests remaining on their conference schedule following the victory, but anything less than a double-digit TJ win in any of those matchups seemed unlikely.

“I thought we played with a ton of emotion and that really helped our performance,” said TJ’s Mac Duda, a senior lineman and Princeton recruit. “We definitely have a lot to improve upon, myself included, but the effort and energy we had in that game was huge for us. It was a great win and puts us in a great position moving forward.

“We settled down a bit and got into playing our brand of football in the second half. We knew we had to sustain drives and put the ball in the end zone, and we definitely did a better job of that. Getting the running game going was huge for us. It made the difference in the second half.”

The Jaguars have won 81 of 82 games on their home turf since 2004, including 32 shutouts, and are riding a 24-game winning streak at TJ Stadium.

TJ and Belle Vernon have a long history on the gridiron. Since Cherpak took over as coach in 1995, the Jaguars are 19-7 against BV — which included a 14-game winning streak from 2001-14 — but are just 4-2 since 2015.

“Belle Vernon is definitely our biggest rival,” Duda said. “They always have a good team that plays us hard. I know we are always fired up for the Belle Vernon game. It’s definitely the biggest game of our regular season. The recent history between us proves they are our biggest rival.”

Senior QB Shane Stump accounted for 165 yards (110 passing, 55 rushing) in total offense and scored twice against the Leopards. Junior RB DeRon VanBibber rambled to 127 yards and two TDs on 21 carries, while senior WR Dan Deabner caught four passes for 92 yards and one score.

Stump and Deabner developed into one of the most prolific passing-receiving combinations in the WPIAL last season, and have continued that connection this fall.

Stump passed for 1,833 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2018, and had thrown for 3,922 yards and 54 scores over the past three years.

Deaber finished with 59 catches last year and set a team record for receiving yards in a season with 1,365 yards, He also scored 19 times.

“We started off really slow (against BV),” Deabner said. “Many mistakes on both sides of the ball were made, but we knew we would push ahead in the second half. We pushed the ball right down the field and scored and at that point, there was no stopping us.

“We didn’t make many adjustments. We just talked for a while about how we need to play smarter and take what they are giving us. Once we did that, we controlled the rest of the half.”

Defensively, TJ has been sparked this season by the likes of Stump, VanBibber and Deabner in the secondary, senior lineman Mike Huber, senior linebackers Nathan Werderber and Bowen Dame, and junior linebacker Trevor Barrett.

“We just need to keep getting better,” Cherpak said, “and always play to our level and not to the opponent’s. I’m proud of the guys for how hard they played.”

Brentwood 34, Seton LaSalle 23

Brentwood registered one of the most exciting victories at home in recent memory.

The Spartans moved to 2-0 in the Class AA Three Rivers Conference, tied for first place with Burgettstown.

Senior QB John Milcic threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns, while junior running back Aiden Wardzinski ran for 122 yards and scored twice.

Along with Milcic, senior team leaders at Brentwood include lineman Luke Bauer and running back/linebacker Ian Thomas.

Along with being named first-team all-conference on offense and defense last year, Bauer was voted as the conference’s most valuable lineman.

“I thought we had a strong comeback. Our team never gave up,” Bauer said. “We had a lot of young guys step up in key roles with people being injured. Our defense stepped up in the second half. Our offense was able to keep chipping away and we had fewer penalties and mental errors in the second half. That kept us in the game.

“Our schools are rivals in every sport. Our schools are so close and a lot of us have been able to play with and against each other ever since we were young. The games are always close or competitive.”

The speedy, athletic Thomas serves as a catalyst on both offense and defense for the Spartans.

“It was a great win and a total team effort,” Thomas said. “I think we just started playing to win instead of playing not to lose.

“Seton is a huge rival in any sport. As far as for our team, we all believe in each other and are focused on the goal of winning a championship, and that’s what I believe we are capable of.”

Brentwood senior receiver/defensive back Jayneil Latham didn’t play in the game after suffering a concussion in the Spartans’ season opener.

He is a versatile three-sport athlete. The 2019 season marks just his second year in the football program.

“We played so hard the entire game,” Latham said. “With all of our injuries, many underclassmen stepped up to help out. In the second half, we just limited the turnovers and kept playing hard, and in the end we weren’t as tired as they were. We, for sure, consider Seton a rival, not just in football, but in all sports.”

Through three contests, the lanky Milcic had hit on 45 of 81 passes for 632 yards and seven touchdowns.

“We are starting off strong,” Bauer said. “We hopefully will have key players returning from injury.

“We were angry on how last season went and that motivated us to work harder to become a better team. I think we are playing well, but we still have things to work on, and we will keep getting better as the season moves on.”

Along with Latham, other injured players included senior Aidan Davis and junior J.D. Satler, both integral members of the linebacking corps.

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