Thomas Jefferson peaks just in time for the playoffs, giving coach Bill Cherpak his 300th win


Sunday November 20, 2022 | 11:01 a.m

The list of awards and honors Thomas Jefferson football coach Bill Cherpak has received over the years is long.

Cherpak has won five state championships, nine WPIAL titles and 22 conference crowns. He was named Conference Coach of the Year eight times, AP Pennsylvania Class AAA Coach of the Year in 2004, ESPN RISE Eastern Division Coach of the Year in 2008, and was a Pittsburgh Steelers nominee for the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award twice (2016, 2019). In 2016, he was inducted into the Robert “Tick” Cloherty/Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

Now add 300 career wins to that spectacular coaching resume.

Cherpak, in his 28th season as TJ’s field boss, and the third-placed Jaguars swept past No. 11 Latrobe 21-6 in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class 4A Playoffs on Nov. 11. With the rain-soaked victory, Cherpak’s career record improved to 300-53.

“I think as I get older and think about things, the 300 wins will mean more to me than they do now,” said Cherpak. “We have always strived to be a program that has been consistent year after year and the 300 wins are a byproduct of that consistency.”

The 55-year-old Cherpak is the fourth coach in WPIAL history with 300 career wins, joining Jim Render (406), Joe Hamilton (342) and George Novak (306).

Thomas Jefferson coach Pete Murphy presented Cherpak with a plaque and cue ball commemorating his milestone win immediately after the quarterfinal round playoff game at TJ Stadium.

The TJ football team was at a crossroads after suffering two hard punches to the chin in late September, losing to Belle Vernon in an out-of-conference duel and to Laurel Highlands in the conference.

The Jaguars were 3-3 in midseason for the first time in recent history.

Her reaction?

TJ rolled past Trinity, Ringgold, Connellsville and McKeesport to end the Big Seven Conference first with McKeesport and Laurel Highlands in a three-way tie. TJ was rewarded with a first-round bye to the playoffs.

“We had some issues early in the season,” said Cherpak, “but this team has really come together and are playing well at the right time. Hopefully we can continue. I always tell them it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Playing in the remnants of Hurricane Nicole, the Jaguars handcuffed the visiting team of Latrobe, who claimed their first playoff win since winning the WPIAL Class 3A title against Kiski Area in 1968.

The Jaguars have reached the WPIAL semifinals 24 times in 25 years.

TJ was led offensively by junior quarterback Brody Evans, who completed 134 of 221 passes for 1,857 yards and 19 touchdowns during the regular season.

“Brody has gotten better and better every week of the season,” Cherpak said. “He’s really developed as a quarterback and as a leader on our offense.”

While the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Evans became the main catalyst for the Jaguars, he had two favorite targets in junior Sean Sullivan and senior Ryan Lawry.

Before the playoffs, Sullivan caught 43 passes for 827 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 19.2 yards per catch. Lawry added 32 receptions for 371 yards and three points, or 12 yards per reception.

“Ryan and Sean were both great. They make Brody’s job a lot easier by forcing the defense to defend them both along with our tight end Jordan Mayer,” Cherpak said. “Ryan has been the team captain and leader all season. Sean is our big play threat and has really improved in the last couple of games.”

The Jaguars presented a solid one-two on the floor thanks to junior RBs Elias Lippincott and Aidan Whalen, who combined for 1,171 yards and 16 touchdowns on 239 carries.

Lippincott (6-2, 220) rushed for 721 yards and 10 points on 141 carries. He also staggered in 10 passes for 90 yards. Whalen (6-0, 170) turned for 450 yards and six TDs on 98 carries.

The starters on the O-line are senior LT Peyton Kreuger, junior LG Michael Hutchison, senior C Nick Florian, sophomore RG Shephard Turk, senior RT Nathan Everley, and the 6-5, 235-pound Mayer, a senior tight end and recruit out Wisconsin .

“I think as a team we’ve really improved over the season and it was just about fixing the little details,” said Kreuger, who is 6-2 and weighs 260.

TJ’s running game accounted for 3,284 yards and 39 touchdowns en route to the WPIAL playoffs.

Lippincott and Sullivan were the team’s top scorers in 10 competitions with 10 TDs each. Sullivan’s total included a touchdown on a kickoff return.

Whalen had seven TDs while Andrew Graham, a veteran kick specialist, added 40 PAT kicks and five field goals (55 points).

Graham had 10 touchbacks and averaged 37.3 yards per punt.

TJ’s defensive line came together in the second half of the season. During the four-game winning streak, the Jaguars conceded just 20 points and blinded two opponents.

The starting defense unit consisted of Mayer (DE), Lippincott (DE), Florian (DT), Kreuger (DT), Sophomore Matt Martinis (LB), Senior John Janusek (LB), Junior Kam Eggerton (LB), Junior Michael Banda (LB), Whalen (DB), Sullivan (DB), Lawry (DB) and Junior Jason Salman (DB).

In 10 games, Martinis and Mayer statistically led defense, with Martinis responsible for 48 tackles, including 39 solo and a fumble recovery. Mayer added 40 tackles, two forced fumbles, six rushes, five sacks, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt.

Other top defensive players included Kreuger, Janusek, Eggerton, Florian, Senior DB Bryce Heller, Lawry, Banda and Lippincott.

Sullivan had two interceptions while Janusek, Florian, Eggerton and Lawry each got one.

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