No. 4 Imani Christian rolls past Burrell for Allegheny Conference win

Friday, September 29, 2023 | 10:51 PM

Going into its matchup against Class 2A No. 4 Imani Christian, Burrell knew it needed to execute when it got into the red zone.

But, unfortunately for the Buccaneers, a handful of their drives stalled deep in Saints territory.

Imani Christian scored on its first two drives of the game, and it was all the Saints needed to spoil homecoming at Buccaneers Stadium. Imani Christian prevailed 35-8 on Friday in Class 2A Allegheny Conference action.

“How many times were we inside the red zone? We’ve got to score,” Burrell coach Shawn Liotta said. “That’s what it comes down to. We’ve got to execute when we get down there. We had multiple opportunities to score early in the game. But I’m proud how our kids didn’t quit. We stayed in there and kept fighting to get back into the game. We certainly had some chances.

“Credit Imani. That’s a really skilled, talented and fast football team. They are going to beat a lot of people this year.”

Last year, Burrell beat Imani Christian, 41-30.

The Saints (3-2, 1-1) opened the scoring when junior Dayshaun Burnett connected with senior Che’Von Allen for a 70-yard touchdown pass on the third play from scrimmage.

After forcing another Burrell (3-3, 2-1) punt, the Saints had an opportunity to go up by two scores with the ball at the Buccaneers 41-yard line.

Imani Christian relied on Burnett’s legs before junior quarterback Steve Vandiver sneaked it in from a yard out to give the Saints a 15-0 lead late in the first quarter.

“I think when you score early, you can breathe a little bit. My team is young and trying to understand what they can be and how that fits into a game sometimes. The early scores calmed us down early and allowed us to settle in,” Imani Christian coach Laroi Johnson said.

Burrell had an opportunity to get on the board after Imani Christian botched the snap on a punt. The Buccaneers took over at the Saints’ 14-yard line but moved only 1 yard on the drive.

On their next drive, the Buccaneers drove to their 2-yard line with the final seconds ticking off in the first half. The Saints’ defense foiled Burrell again.

“Before the half was critical when they stopped us on the one-yard line. We could have made it a one score game before the half, and it would’ve been a totally different football game. We weren’t able to punch the ball in, and that hurt us,” Liotta said.

In the second half, the Saints got freshman quarterback Gabe Jenkins involved, and he accumulated more than 100 yards rushing just in the third quarter.

On opening drive, Jenkins called his own number as he took the shotgun snap up the middle for the 4-yard run to extend the lead to 21-0.

Burrell had a short field on its first drive of the second half, but the drive again stalled deep in Saints territory, this time at the 6-yard line.

On the next Imani Christian drive, it was more of the same. Jenkins finished the second drive of the second half when he ran it in for a 12-yard score as the Saints expanded the lead to 27-0 with 2:15 remaining in the third quarter.

Jenkins finished with 133 yards rushing on 12 carries.

“I keep telling people that he’s the next one up. He’s a phenomenal player. It was time to take the Ferrari out of the garage,” Johnson said.

“The coaches at halftime all looked at each other and said it was time to give Gabe his opportunity. We’ve been holding him back a little bit, but we knew today would be the time to give him a chance.”

Senior running back Devin Beattie got the Buccaneers on the scoreboard when he ran it in from 3 yards with 7:22 remaining in the game.

Beattie had 88 yards rushing on 15 carries.

Imani Christian righted the ship after losing 17-6 to Steel Valley on Sept. 15.

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Bucs.

Imani Christian will face Apollo-Ridge next week, while Burrell travels to Ligonier Valley.

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