When Thomas Jefferson and Belle Vernon meet in their WPIAL Class 4A semifinal Friday night, it will be a rematch of one of the regular season’s best games.
Belle Vernon scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter and held on to hand Thomas Jefferson its only defeat of the season. The win propelled the Leopards to an undefeated regular season, the Big Nine Conference title, and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
The Jaguars are the two-time defending WPIAL champions and appearing in the semifinals for the 19th time in 20 years. They’ll look to avoid losing to the same team twice in a season since 2000.
Both teams feature outstanding defenses, as neither squad is allowing more than nine points a game. Add it all up and it’s apparent why the contest is one of most highly anticipated matchups in the area.
Friday night’s meeting will also draw a lot of attention from Pitt fans. Three high-profile Panther commitments will be on the field in Belle Vernon’s Blake Zubovic and Thomas Jefferson’s Noah Palmer and Devin Danielson.
Pittsburgh Sports Now caught up with Palmer to get his thoughts on the showdown with Belle Vernon.
“I, myself, am very much looking forward to it because it’s not often you have a second chance to make up for your mistakes,” Palmer said. “As a team, we are all determined and focused on the task at hand.”
Palmer, who had five tackles in the first meeting, said the Jaguars must limit the “mental mistakes” against the Leopards.
Thomas Jefferson held Belle Vernon to just 157 total yards of offense yet allowed a pair of 47 yard scoring plays and commited four turnovers. A Jaguars’ fumble deep in their own territory led to the Leopards’ other touchdown, staking Belle Vernon to a 14-3 lead at the time.
“We are very focused at practice and in film sessions,” Palmer said of the team’s preparation. “We are blocking out all the negative voices and just keeping our attention to the small details and tendencies.”
Palmer, a defensive end and three-star recruit, will frequently line up opposite of Zubovic, an offensive tackle, giving Pitt fans a unique opportunity to see two future Panthers go at it. He looks forward to the matchup with Zubovic and said playing discipline football will be key against the 300-pound lineman.
“Reading my keys and getting around that edge as fast as I can on the pass rush,” Palmer said.
Temperatures around kickoff are expected to be in the 20’s but Palmer said the conditions won’t play a factor.
“Both teams have to play in the same weather,” Palmer said. “We can’t let the elements affect any aspect of the game.”
The buildup surrounding the contest has the feel of a WPIAL championship-level game and the anticipation is fueling Palmer and his teammates.
“We are using the hype around the game to drive us to play to our best abilities individually and as a team,” Palmer said.
The winner will play for the WPIAL Class 4A title next week against South Fayette or Montour.