Thomas Jefferson, West Mifflin again to cap regular season with rivalry matchup
Rivalry week gives football teams an extra bounce in their steps during the final days of the regular season.
Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin are longtime rivals; the two schools are located about nine miles apart.
West Mifflin hosts undefeated and No. 1-ranked TJ at 7:30 p.m. Friday at West Mifflin Stadium in a Class 4A Big 8 Conference showdown.
Thomas Jefferson (8-0, 6-0) is in first place in the conference, with West Mifflin (5-4, 5-1) and Belle Vernon (7-1, 5-1) trailing by one game. All three teams have clinched playoff berths.
“West Mifflin has played a very tough schedule and although their 5-4 record isn’t great, they have played well and been very competitive in all their games,” TJ’s veteran coach Bill Cherpak said. “They have excellent skill players and an undersized line that are tough kids who get after you. We need to be very physical up front and control both the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage.
“The rivalry part is always a factor anytime we play West Mifflin in any sport. The kids all know each other and always have something to prove. It is always an extremely emotional game. I think it is a great end to the regular season that leads right into the playoffs.”
Thomas Jefferson, which has won three consecutive WPIAL championships, routed Greensburg Salem, 70-21, last week, and boasts offensive and defensive averages of 51.8 and 8.6, respectively.
West Mifflin blanked Ringgold, 53-0, in its last game, and is averaging 27.7 ppg offensively and 13.1 ppg defensively.
The Titans have lost to Belle Vernon in conference action, and to Mars, Franklin Regional and New Castle in nonconference games.
“TJ once again is the team to beat,” WM’s veteran coach Ray Braszo said. “They are big, strong and talented at all positions. We have to find a way defensively to keep them from dominating the line of scrimmage.
“We don’t match up size-wise at all with them. It is a big game for us and for them, but we must play the best game of the year just to stay close. We must play well on the line of scrimmage to win.”
If Thomas Jefferson beats West Mifflin, TJ wins the conference title outright. Belle Vernon and West Mifflin would end up second and third.
If West Mifflin wins and Belle Vernon defeats Ringgold, tiebreaker points (or a possible coin flip) would determine first place.
The winner of the Greensburg Salem-Indiana game finishes fourth in the conference.
Both Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin own explosive offenses. West Mifflin has reached 35-or-more points in all five of its victories. TJ has not scored less than 36 points in any game this year.
Both teams have three shutouts this season.
TJ senior running back Max Shaw tied a team record for points in a game last week by rushing for six touchdowns on runs of 10, 5, 1, 30, 1 and 9 yards.
Shaw boosted his season totals to 1,001 yards and a team-leading 22 touchdowns on just 93 carries, an average of 10.8 yards per attempt.
For his efforts, the 6-foot, 190-pound Shaw was named the Trib HSSN Football Player of the Week.
“It feels great to be nominated for player of the week,” Shaw said. “It’s a great mention, and I’m very grateful for the nomination, but again I just need to do everything I can for us to be playing in December.
“This game was definitely one of my better ones based off stats alone. Either way, I still focus more on being consistent with my play each week and doing everything I can to help the team win. The line deserves just as much credit, too; they’ve been dominating all year.”
The feature back in West Mifflin’s run-oriented offense is 5-10, 180-pound senior Parrish Parker, a Howard recruit who has accounted for 1,253 yards and a team-best 22 touchdowns on 160 carries (7.8 yards per attempt).
Parker landed nearly two dozen Division I offers before making a verbal commitment to Howard.
“Parrish Parker is an explosive running back, and we can’t allow him to break any big plays,” Cherpak said. “Special teams will be a big part of the game, as well. They have excellent returners who can go the distance every time they touch the ball.”
TJ also has a 1,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard receiver in junior quarterback Shane Stump and junior wideout Dan Deabner.
Stump has completed 61 of 98 aerials for 1,322 yards and 18 touchdowns, and is averaging 21.7 yards per completion.
His favorite target is Deabner with 40 receptions for 1,009 yards and 15 scores. Deabner is reeling in passes at a 25.2 yards-per-average clip.
Three other offensive catalysts for the Titans include seniors Matt Schuster, at quarterback; Bryant Johnson, at wide receiver; and Zion Weems, at fullback.
Schuster has hit on 32 of 72 passes for 648 yards and four touchdowns this year. Johnson is averaging 27.6 yards per catch with 16 receptions for 442 yards and four scores.
“West Mifflin is always tough,” Shaw said. “They’re extremely fast and can make a play at any moment. You can’t count them out. They do what they do well, and play very aggressive defense.”
Cherpak is in his 24th season as coach of the TJ football program. The Jaguars have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs all 24 years.
Cherpak’s teams have won 20 conference championships, including 10 of the past 12.
Although WM and TJ shared the conference title in 2011, the rivalry has been lopsided in recent years, as the Jaguars have won 12 of the past 13 games between the two teams.
TJ has captured seven games in a row against the Titans, including last year by a 37-7 score.
“This game is without a doubt still a rivalry,” Shaw said. “Even with all the hype on our matchup with Belle Vernon this year, this game still gets both teams fired up. Their stadium has a great atmosphere, and overall it’s an awesome one to end the regular season.”
West Mifflin has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for nine consecutive years, and advanced to the WPIAL semifinals in 2016.