PITTSBURGH — Belle Vernon’s tremendous season came to an end Saturday night at Heinz Field in a 41-7 setback to rival Thomas Jefferson in the WPIAL Class AAAA Championship.
The Leopards (10-2) were seeking their second district title and first since 1995, but the Jaguars (13-0) proved why they are the class of the division by scoring on all five possessions in the first half to build a 35-0 lead at the break.
“The kids should be emotional, they should be disappointed, they should be crying a little bit,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “You put a lot of time, energy and effort into this. I refuse to be anything but positive. We finally broke through that door. We finally kicked that door in and got to Heinz Field. This is a helluva group of kids, and I am not talking about the football accolades. They are great human beings, great students and great role models.”
“I think Matt (Humbert) has done a great job at Belle Vernon,” said Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak. “They’ve had success in the six years he’s been there. He has changed it there. You need stability in a program, and they have it.”
Thomas Jefferson’s triumph over Belle Vernon is their nine district title. The Jaguars won their first championship in 1980 before starting a run of eight over 15 years in 2004. TJ won in ’06, ’07, ’08, ’15, ’16 and ’17.
“I think what you really want is consistency in your program,” Cherpak said. “It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be, and that’s why it means so much. Overall, our offensive line just dominated the game. No doubt about it. Players make plays. I haven’t played a down.”
Thomas Jefferson allowed a first down on the Leopards’ first drive, but a holding penalty moved Belle Vernon back and the drive stalled.
Jaguars quarterback Shane Stump opened the scoring with a one-yard run to cap an eight-play, 73-yard drive at 6:37 of the first quarter. Dylan Sullivan made the first of three PATs for a 7-0 lead.
Dylan Mallozzi scored the first of four touchdown runs on a 12 yarder with eight seconds remaining in the first quarter to increase Thomas Jefferson’s advantage to 13-0. Mallozzi gained 178 yards on 27 carries.
“Our offensive line really makes life easy for me,” Mallozzi said. “Our offensive line has been working hard all year, and they deserve all the credit in the world. It’s easy to run behind a big line like that.”
Mallozzi scored on runs of four and 16 yards at 10:26 and 6:02 of the second quarter to push the Jaguars’ lead to 27-0.
Thomas Jefferson benefited from a short field on its third touchdown, as the Leopards had a bad snap on a punt and the Jaguars recovered at Belle Vernon’s 10. TJ also fumbled on its fourth drive, but was able to recover.
“It was one of those games where you had to match it,” Humbert said. “If they score, you have to match it. We’re resilient and we’ve proved that year after year after year. When you are going against a team like that, you have to score points, but credit goes to those kids at Thomas Jefferson. They’re tough, they’re physical and they play hard. We also didn’t take advantage of anything and sustain drives the way we should.”
Stump scored the final touchdown of the first half when he ran a keeper to the right and crossed the pylon on a fourth-and-goal from the three as time expired. Mallozzi’s two-point conversion run extended TJ’s advantage to 35-0.
“That was big to us,” said Cherpak in regards to scoring just before halftime. “That was actually our two-point play last year against South Fayette if we scored, and Shane made a nice play and got to the pylon. We really didn’t want to kick a field goal and take a chance of a block. We were definitely going for two to get to 35.”
The Leopards got on the scoreboard with 1:04 left in the third quarter when Nolan Labuda pulled in a five-yard reception from Jared Hartman and Cameron Guess made the extra point to cut the deficit to 35-7.
“If was pretty cool to catch a touchdown at Heinz Field where the Steelers play, but we didn’t get the job done today,” Labuda said.
“It will be cool to look back at it down the road,” Hartman said.
Mallozzi closed the scoring on a 39-yard run at 8:36 of the fourth quarter.
The Jaguars play Erie Cathedral Prep on Friday or Saturday in the quarterfinals of the PIAA playoffs.
“A few of the coaches and I went up and saw Erie Prep play last night,” Cherpak said. “They are explosive and have great athletes. They have beaten us three times, so we are going to do everything we can to be ready for them. It is going to be a big challenge for our defense because they have so many explosive athletes.”
at Heinz Field
Belle Vernon 0 0 7 0 -- 7
Thomas Jefferson 13 22 0 6 -- 41
TJ: Shane Stump 1 run (Dylan Sullivan kick), 6:37
TJ: Dylan Mallozzi 12 run (kick failed), :08
TJ: Dylan Mallozzi 4 run (Dylan Sullivan kick), 10:24
TJ: Dylan Mallozzi 16 run (Dylan Sullivan kick), 6:02
TJ: Shane Stump 3 run (Dylan Mallozzi run), :00
BV: Nolan Labuda 5 pass from Jared Hartman (Cameron Guess kick), 1:04
TJ: Dylan Mallozzi 39 run (kick failed), 8:36
Records: Thomas Jefferson (13-0), Belle Vernon (10-2).