Trib HSSN Football Team of the Week 2022: Week 9

Sunday, October 30, 2022 | 8:10 PM

Thomas Jefferson winning a big football game in late October is hardly breaking news after nearly 30 years of dominating success.

Excuse a few folks though for raising some eyebrows when the final score of the Class 4A Big Seven Conference battle for first place was announced — Thomas Jefferson 20, McKeesport 10.

The loss was the first of the season for the host Tigers and gave the Jaguars a three-way share of the conference crown with McKeesport and Laurel Highlands.

In a unique season of ups and downs to go along with an eligibility battle before the season even started, another conference title was hardly a given for this Thomas Jefferson team.

First there was the August battle with the district and state over transfer quarterback Luke Kosko, who had been at Seton LaSalle and lives in the West Jefferson Hills School District. His eligibility was denied by both the WPIAL and PIAA.

Then, there was the sluggish 3-3 start that included back-to-back losses to Belle Vernon and Laurel Highlands in Weeks 4 and 5.

“Even though we had won a couple of early games, we did not play well,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. “After that, we had a team meeting, just me and the team to let the kids talk. Because it was all self-inflicted things; we were turning the ball over, we had costly penalties, blown coverages, blown assignments.

“I just wanted to get some feedback from them and for them to understand what the possibilities were if we could eliminate those things.”

Following three straight one-sided victories in conference over Trinity, Ringgold and Connellsville, the Jaguars were set for their regular season finale against first-place and undefeated McKeesport.

The Jaguars and Tigers exchanged first quarter touchdowns before McKeesport added a second quarter field goal and hit the locker room leading 10-6.

Thomas Jefferson took the lead for good early in the third quarter on the second two touchdowns passes from junior Brody Evans to junior Sean Sullivan, this one from 75 yards out.

“Brody’s done an excellent job,” Cherpak said. “The thing about Brody is he’s getting better every game. Earlier, we were having issues with turnovers. He’s been a lot better at taking what’s there and not forcing the ball. He’s really done a nice job this year for us.”

Another player who has done well for Thomas Jefferson is 6-foot-4, 235-pound defensive end Jordan Mayer.

The Wisconsin recruit took advantage of some defensive schematic changes Cherpak and his staff made and ended up scoring the game’s final touchdown on a fumble recovery.

Now, the Jaguars sit and wait. They are the No. 3 seed in the Class 4A tournament and will host the winner of the first-round game between Latrobe and Highlands.

WPIAL Week 9 Honorable Mentions

Mt. Lebanon Blue Devils & Penn-Trafford Warriors

Two defending WPIAL and PIAA champions entered the final week of the regular season with their backs against the ropes and needing a knockout victory to qualify for the 2022 postseason. When the final bell rang, both Mt. Lebanon in 6A and Penn-Trafford in 5A were Week 9 winners and are now preparing for another November run.

The Blue Devils crushed Canon-McMillan, 31-0, to not only clinch a playoff spot, but with Seneca Valley losing to North Allegheny, Mt. Lebanon earned the No. 2 seed in the two-week 6A playoffs and will host a semifinals game in two weeks. The Warriors needed overtime to take down Franklin Regional, 28-21, and take third place in the Big East and earn one of the two Class 5A wild card playoff berths.

Woodland Hills Wolverines

When Woodland Hills lost three games in four weeks to fall into fourth place in the 5A Northeast Conference, most thought the young Wolverines would close out the regular season against rival Penn Hills and begin to look ahead at what could be a successful 2023 campaign.

Woody High players and coaches decided it was too early to begin thinking of next fall, and this would be a perfect time to think about 2022 November football. The Wolverines cranked things up on defense and a Frankie Keys 14-yard scoring run held up as Woodland Hills stunned Penn Hills, 7-3, to take second place in the NEC and also bump the rival Indians from the playoffs.

Apollo-Ridge Vikings

The Trib HSSN Week 8 Team of the Week, Apollo-Ridge, earned a chance at a WPIAL 2A playoff berth with an upset victory over defending champion Serra Catholic. However, that would mean nothing if they could not follow up with another win in Week 9 over a playoff-bound team.

Apollo-Ridge senior running back Nick Curci, who a week earlier carried the ball 51 times for 338 yards and five touchdowns, settled for 24 carries for 141 yards and two touchdowns on runs of 43 and 7 yards as the Vikings defeated Burrell, 28-14, to earn a return to the WPIAL postseason.

2022 HSSN Teams of the Week

Week 8 – Apollo-Ridge Vikings

Week 7 – Seneca Valley Raiders

Week 6 – Sto-Rox Vikings

Week 5 – Laurel Highlands Mustangs

Week 4 – West Mifflin Titans

Week 3 – McKeesport Tigers

Week 2 – Ellwood City Wolverines

Week 1 – Bethel Park Black Hawks

Week Zero – Mars Fightin’ Planets

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