It took Jeannette almost a half to get its offense started Friday, but once it did, Farrell didn’t have a prayer.
Jeannette’s defense forced four turnovers, including two second-half interceptions, and Robert Kennedy scored two touchdowns as Jeannette punched its ticket to the PIAA Class A championship game with an impressive 17-6 victory at Seneca Valley’s NexTier Stadium.
The Jayhawks will play District 6 champion and Heritage Conference runner-up Homer-Center, which defeated Steelton-Highspire, 20-14, on Friday. The Wildcats and the Jayhawks square off 1 p.m. Thursday at Hersheypark Stadium.
It will be Jeannette’s third trip to the championship, the last being a title-game victory in 2007 with Terrelle Pryor as quarterback. Pryor and former Jayhawks coach Ray Reitz were in attendance Friday, watching the Jayhawks dominate the second half.
“It’s going to be sweet to go back to Hershey,” said coach Roy Hall, whose team became the WPIAL’s all-time winningest program Friday by claiming a 735th victory to surpass New Castle. “It was great having coach Reitz and Terrelle here. I’m thinking about going to Hershey, and I was getting reminded that we are No. 1 in the WPIAL. It’s so surreal.”
Kennedy intercepted two passes — giving him 12 for the season — and also rushed for 125 yards, caught two passes for 55 yards and was 2 for 2 passing for 21 yards.
But Kennedy wasn’t alone in leading Jeannette. The Jayhawks’ defense stymied a Farrell offense that averaged 43 points per game. The Steelers’ (11-3) only score came on an 89-yard kickoff return by Christian Lewis with 2 minutes left.
“I definitely have to deliver in my perspective,” Kennedy said. “But as long as I have my teammates with me and we’re pushing ourselves, we can beat anybody.”
The District 10 champion drove into Jeannette territory six times in the first half but was turned away each time. Kennedy stopped one drive with an interception in the first quarter, and Anthony Johnson’s sack forced a fumble that Hunter Yates recovered at the Jayhawks’ 49 with 41 seconds left in the first half.
“We had opportunities in the first half and didn’t capitalize,” Farrell coach Jarrett Samuels Sr. said. “You can’t do that against a good team like that. Turnovers hurt us.”
On the next play, quarterback Seth Howard launched a pass down the sidelines that was underthrown. Kennedy cut under the coverage and caught the pass at the Farrell 22 and then darted into the end zone to give Jeannette a 7-0 lead at halftime.
Howard completed 7 of 11 passes for 113 yards.
“We had good coverage on the play, but their kid made a great play,” Samuels said. “That’s what good players do.”
The touchdown sparked Jeannette in the second half, as Farrell had trouble slowing the Jayhawks.
After a Jackson Pruitt interception, Tre Cunningham capped a 55-yard drive by booting a 27-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Cunningham caught a 30-yard pass from Howard during the drive.
“We did a great job shutting them down,” Hall said. “They scored, but they didn’t score on our defense. It was surreal. The defense played lights out. To hold a team like that to six points is awesome.”
Kennedy then picked off a Farrell pass at the Jeannette 3 to stop another threat. Then, Jeannette marched 80 yards in 10 plays to make it 17-0. Kennedy carried the ball behind a dominating line nine consecutive plays and scored on a 13-yard run against a tiring Farrell defense.
Clarke completed 7 of 15 passes for 65 yards and threw three interceptions for Farrell. Jeannette outgained the Steelers, 282-159.
“This is an unbelievable feeling,” Kennedy said. “This is something we’ve wanted since we were 8 or 9 years old. For this to come true is a blessing. Now we have to go win this.”