Blue team looks to avenge shutout in Foothills Classic

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018 | 6:18 PM


Members of the Blue team in Friday’s Foothills Classic know the score — or, rather the lack of score — about how their predecessors fared when the Westmoreland County Coaches Association brought back the all-star game last year.

Blue didn’t crack the scoreboard in the game’s revival, its offense dead on arrival in the Red team’s 21-0 victory. The Foothills Classic’s nine-year absence before last June means Blue hasn’t scored in a full decade.

The Blue offense wants redemption. The defense wants to return Red’s favor.

“(We want) to go out there and have like five sacks, shut them out because last time they shut us out,” said Jeannette’s Jalen Jones, one of six members of the PIAA champion Jayhawks on the Blue roster. “We’re going to shut them out this year.”

While all-star games tend to focus on offense, Blue believes it can make a statement on defense in Friday’s Foothills Classic, which will take place at 7 p.m. at Hempfield.

The game has offensive-friendly rules — limited alignments, no blitzing allowed, man-to-man coverage — but Blue is banking on talent and more than a little bit of motivation.

“Here’s what I told them: I want you to be aggressive, run to the football,” said Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta, the Blue team’s defensive coordinator. “If we shut them out, we shut them out. If we don’t, let’s hold them down in scoring. That’s the attitude they took the field with ever since Day 1.”

The Blue defense features the likes of linebackers Bryce Lauer, Franklin Regional’s all-time leading tackler, and Penn-Trafford teammates Anthony Cervone and Matt Wilkie; all-conference defensive backs like Jeannette’s Robert Kennedy — who had 12 interceptions — and Belle Vernon’s Logan Pfrogner; and double-digit sack artist Jones on the line.

Then there’s the offense, highlighted by Kennedy — named Pennsylvania’s Class A Football Player of the Year after scoring 47 offensive touchdowns in Jeannette’s title run. He can line up all over the formation, including quarterback.

And after last season’s shutout, Blue is poised for points.

“We’re explosive,” Kennedy said. “We’re going to put up probably 40 points if it doesn’t rain, but if it rains, it doesn’t really matter. We’re going to win.”

Blue coach Roy Hall, Jeannette’s title-winning coach, said he liked the size and quick-learning ability of his team.

“Without a doubt, there’s that competitive edge, but the thing is, it’s a little different,” Hall said. “As the coach of your own high school team going in, you know what you’ve got. You know who they are, and you know their personalities and things like that. So you’ve got to get to know these kids, know their personalities and put them in place. It’s great. You can only have 11 on there, but they’ve all got good attitudes. They know they’re going to play.

“Even though we had a state championship team, it’d be nice to have a full team like this playing in the league. I’m pretty excited about the game.”

That’s an attitude that’s trickled down to the players. Many are playing their last competitive football game, while others are getting their final high school game under the lights before heading off to college ball. Jeannette’s six representatives are playing their final game together and want to go out “with a bang,” Jones said.

“Obviously, it’s relaxed, but in the end, it’s a game,” Lauer said. “You want to win. We’re all out here, real competitive, obviously.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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