With five WPIAL titles to his credit, West Allegheny coach Bob Palko knows the path to Heinz Field, it usually runs through Thomas Jefferson and it usually involves a strong defense.
That was true in 2009, the previous time the Indians reached the WPIAL Class AAA final, and it was true Friday night at Bethel Park.
Behind a dominating defensive performance, No. 4 West Allegheny (11-1) knocked off unbeaten top seed Thomas Jefferson (11-1), 24-7.
The West Allegheny defense forced three turnovers and forced the Jaguars to turn the ball over on downs with more than five minutes to play to all but ice the game and send the Indians back to Heinz Field, where they will play West Mifflin.
Thomas Jefferson quarterback Joe Carroll was under constant pressure. He was sacked four times, completed only 11 of 33 passes and was picked off twice, once by Armand Dellovade at the West Allegheny 20 and again by Lewis Walls in the West Allegheny end zone.
"We talked all week about getting pressure on their quarterback," Palko said. "When they were sending that many guys they weren't protecting."
It did not take long for the Indians defense to make an impact. On the second play of the game, Zach Medved came up with a strip sack recovered by Jordan Diven to give the offense the ball at the Thomas Jefferson 10-yard line.
Three plays later it was 7-0 West Allegheny on a Nick Halbedl 1-yard touchdown run.
The Jaguars were limited to 13 yards rushing. Dellovade led the West Allegheny ground game with 60 yards on 20 carries.
After the early West Allegheny score the teams traded punts for most of the first half but then they traded touchdowns. Carroll found Zach Schademan on a 47-yard touchdown with the ensuing extra point tying the score -- briefly.
On the first play of the ensuing West Allegheny drive, Andrew Koester hooked up with Medved on a 56-yard touchdown pass to give the Indians the lead for good.
With less than a minute to play in the first half, Halbedl rushed for his second 1-yard touchdown of the game to give West Allegheny a 21-7 halftime lead.
Evan Pelcher booted a 40-yard field goal in the final minutes to give the Indians a 17-point lead.
This was the fifth WPIAL semifinal meeting between the programs with the teams splitting the first four.
West Allegheny defeated Thomas Jefferson, 28-21, in 2009 and the Indians went on to defeat Hopewell in the WPIAL final.
"You play who you are up against," Palko said of the repeated postseason meetings with Thomas Jefferson.
"This is a tournament, anything can happen but you really got to tip your hat to Thomas Jefferson. They were undefeated for a reason."