Thomas Jefferson's Winovich leads way to conference title

TJ quarterback, Michigan recruit

This battle of unbeatens featured the leading rusher in the WPIAL, a running back who practically had been unstoppable, averaging 251 yards a game on the ground.

So, naturally, when it was over the storyline again was a 200-yard rushing performance. Only it came from a quarterback from the other team who is headed to the University of Michigan to play linebacker.

The West Mifflin defense spent the night chasing Chase Winovich as he had the game of his life on offense, leading visiting Thomas Jefferson to a 35-0 drubbing of West Mifflin. Winovich, a quarterback, ran for 246 yards on 27 attempts and scored four touchdowns in the Class AAA Big Nine Conference showdown.

Winovich is a proven athlete, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior who will be in the Big House playing linebacker next year. But he was an unlikely offensive hero. He splits time at quarterback and came into the game with only 335 yards rushing this season.

When Winovich was told his rushing yardage, he was a little surprised. "Two-hundred forty-six yards?" he asked. "Wow, that's a lot of yards."

West Mifflin's Jimmy Wheeler came into the game with about six times as many yards rushing as Winovich. Wheeler also needed only 142 more to break the WPIAL regular-season rushing record. He came up 129 yards short.

Thomas Jefferson's defense was superb.

The Jaguars held Wheeler to 13 yards on 11 carries and held the Titans to three first downs and 62 total yards as coach Bill Cherpak won his 200th career game in only 16 seasons. He is 200-37.

Winovich played well on defense, too, combining on a few sacks.

But the story was his offensive output. Cherpak said his standout player is all about the first three letters of his last name.

"We've had a lot of injuries at tailback," said Cherpak. "We were working on some things this week and we talked about moving Chase to tailback.

"But I said why don't we make him a tailback from where he is [at quarterback]. The thing is he wants to win, no matter what it takes, and everyone stepped it up, too. Our defense did awesome."

It was the eighth year in a row Thomas Jefferson (9-0 overall, 8-0 in conference) has won or tied for the conference title. Thomas Jefferson also finished the regular season undefeated for the ninth time, which ties for sixth most in WPIAL history.

West Mifflin finished 8-1 and 7-1 in the conference. The Titans will go into the WPIAL playoffs as the No. 2 team from the conference.

"Thomas Jefferson is very strong up front. They have been dominating up front," said West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo.

"They look good, execute and move you off the ball. We've had some problems with other teams that had size."

Wheeler had nowhere to run as Thomas Jefferson's defensive line of Austin Boyd, Mathew Nagy, Jacob Guinn and Russell Siess were dominant. Seven of Wheeler's carries were for a yard or less.

"We knew we had an advantage size-wise across the board and also with our linebackers," Cherpak said.

"Our linebackers are pretty active and move well."

Winovich said: "We thought we could maybe hold [Wheeler] and their team without a first down. Seriously. That was our mentality."

And Thomas Jefferson's offensive line of Nagy, Garrett Pahanish, Guinn, Cole Costy and Jason Inks opened holes all night for Winovich, who gained most of his yards on quarterback keepers around the ends.

"That's crazy, 246 yards. But it could've been 300," Winovich said, with a laugh. "It was all my line. That's all I can say. The line did a fabulous job."

Thomas Jefferson held a 14-0 halftime lead on touchdown runs of 13 and 39 yards by Winovich.

The Jaguars started the second half with a 16-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by Winovich's 1-yard touchdown run. He carried 13 times on the drive.

Winovich added a 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, and Austin Kemp closed out the scoring with an 11-yard scoring run. After the game on the field, Thomas Jefferson presented Cherpak with a watch for his 200th win.

"Two-hundred wins," Cherpak said to his team. "That just means I'm getting old."

Mike White:, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.

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