JEFFERSON HILLS (KDKA) — Last year, Thomas Jefferson won their fourth WPIAL Championship in five years.
After each of the three previous wins at Heinz Field, they lost their very next game to the same team — Erie Cathedral Prep.
But Thomas Jefferson flipped the script in 2019.
“We had been stopped by Cathedral Prep three other times after winning the WPIAL and it was just a big hurdle for us to get over,” said Head Coach Bill Cherpak.
“It was a huge win that night. We played well, the atmosphere was electric, and it was just a huge win for our program,” Cherpak said.
After getting over the hump against the private school juggernaut from Erie, Thomas Jefferson went on to win the state title in dominating fashion.
They outscored their next two opponents by a combined score of 100 to 9 and brought their fourth PIAA trophy home to Jefferson Hills.
Like most successful high school teams, the 2019 Jaguars were senior-dominated, which meant this year, they would be forced to replace eight starters on each side of the ball.
Most preseason prognosticators forecasted a rebuilding year for the black and gold — but the remaining players disagreed.
“Every time we saw one of those articles, we made a group chat and we knew we had it in us,” said senior wide receiver Preston Zandier.
“We worked really hard this summer and we just knew we had it and the coaches always find a way to turn young players into great players,” Zandier said.
Many of those ‘great players’ Preston mentioned are first-year started that simply had to wait their turn behind a talented senior class.
Players like quarterback Jake Pugh, who could’ve been a multi-year starter at most other programs.
“It was difficult, but at the same time, I found ways to get on the field by players receiver and defense and I brought into my role and that’s ultimately what you need to do to be successful,” the senior quarterback said.
It’s that kind of attitude that has Thomas Jefferson back on top of the rankings — and not just here locally.
Most publications have them ranked as the #1 4A team in the entire state.
If Thomas Jefferson is able too win the WPIAL title again this year, that championship would be the head coach’s ninth overall — which would give him more titles than any coach in WPIAL history.
As for the coach himself, he says he never remembers the wins and losses, only the players that came through his program.
“That’s probably what you remember more than what years or how many,” Cherpak said.
Cherpak went on to say that it’s more the kids that have gone through and been a part of it.
The Jaguars finished the 2020 regular season with a 5-1 record.