Title game rematches on tap in Week 2 of high school football

Thursday, September 6, 2018 | 9:54 PM

RJ Hart and his Imani Christian teammates have waited nearly 10 months for this week.

They’ve craved a rematch with Jeannette ever since last year’s WPIAL Class A championship, when the Jayhawks intercepted a potential game-winning, two-point pass intended for Hart.

Jeannette won 35-34.

This week’s contest doesn’t carry the same weight or have the ambiance of Joe Walton Stadium, but the Saints are eager for the rematch nonetheless.

“We’re hungry and we’ve wanted this real bad … especially because we lost in the championship by one point,” said Hart, who watched video of the loss just last week.

What made the loss harder for the Saints to accept was that Jeannette also went on to celebrate a state title that maybe could have been theirs.

“It hurt a lot because you know you could have been in their shoes,” said Hart, a Ball State recruit, who already has 10 touchdown catches this season.

Jeannette coach Roy Hall has emphasized to his players this week that his Jayhawks will face a highly motivated team Friday that’s wearing a chip on their shoulders.

“They feel like they could have been in the same position and rightfully so,” Hall said. “If they could have beat us, they probably could have been the state champs, too.”

The winner remains in first place in the Class A Eastern.

Remarkably, Jeannette vs. Imani isn’t the only WPIAL championship rematch on the Week 2 schedule. Quaker Valley visits Aliquippa in a key Class 3A Tri-County West Conference matchup. The Quakers won last year’s WPIAL Class 3A title with a rare 2-0 victory and then went on to win the state title, as well.

This year’s rematch is likely to produce more than a safety.

Combined, Aliquippa outscored its first two opponents 103-0 under first-year coach Mike Warfield. Quaker Valley opened its title defense with an 18-0 win under new coach Ron Balog.

Imani Christian vs. Jeannette also looks to be a high-scoring affair. Jeannette outscored its first two opponents 70-12, while Imani Christian won its first two 118-6.

2. After delay, Clairton starts season

Most teams around the WPIAL already have played two games, but Clairton will make its regular-season debut this week.

The Bears, who scrimmaged in Week Zero, were supposed to play their opener last Friday before Mapletown forfeited that nonconference matchup. The situation wasn’t ideal, but Clairton coach Wayne Wade said his team stayed patient and took it all in stride.

“We used that week positively,” said Wade, who capitalized on the extra preseason practices. “It gave us some time to correct some stuff. This week is like our opening week, that’s how we prepared for it. We’re looking to do our thing Friday night.”

Greensburg Central Catholic (2-0, 1-0) visits Clairton at 7 p.m. for an important early-season matchup in the Eastern Conference.

3. No. 1 Riverside faces test

Riverside, the newly crowned No. 1 team in WPIAL Class 2A, could have its ranking tested right away.

The Panthers on Friday visit a Freedom team that’s off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2004. On top of that, Freedom (2-0, 1-0) has outscored its first two opponents 102-6. The Bulldogs defeated Hopewell, 39-6, and Shenango, 63-0.

It’s a remarkable start for a program that’s had its share of struggles.

Freedom went 20-85 from 2003-15 with two winless seasons included, but has rebounded in recent years. The Bulldogs went 5-6 last season and 4-6 in 2016, losing in each season to Riverside.

Riverside (1-0, 1-0) rose to No. 1 in the Trib rankings after previous-No. 1 Washington lost last week to Charleroi.

Freedom, Riverside and Mohawk are tied for first in the Midwestern Conference at 1-0.

4. Key clash in Class 6A

What’s on the line when No. 3-ranked Central Catholic visits No. 2 North Allegheny on Friday?

Well, first place in WPIAL Class 6A, for starters. The Vikings and Tigers are tied at 2-0 overall, 1-0 in the conference.

But this Week 2 matchup could have major implications down the road. Only the top two teams in Class 6A earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, so the winner this week could have an early edge.

However, No. 1 Pine-Richland (1-1, 1-0) and No. 4 Mt. Lebanon (1-1, 1-0) also started their conference schedules with a win last week.

5. WPIAL wideouts with D-I talent

Two of the leading receivers in the WPIAL are both Division I college recruits, just not necessarily for football.

Avonworth senior Turner Grau is tied for the league lead with 16 receptions after two weeks, and Highlands junior Johnny Crise leads with 334 receiving yards.

Grau (6-3, 185) is a standout baseball player committed to Youngstown State. Crise, who’s 6-foot-6, is a basketball star with offers from Robert Morris and others. Both should be busy again this week when Avonworth hosts Steel Valley, and Highlands hosts Blackhawk.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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