Clairton, Jeannette at it again in WPIAL Class A championship game

Thursday, November 12, 2020 | 2:11 PM

Before Jeannette and Clairton met in the first game of the season Sept. 11, Clairton coach Wayne Wade made two predictions.

One, the game would decide the Eastern Conference title, and he was correct.

Two, he said he was confident that the teams would meet for a second time for the WPIAL Class A title. Right again.

No. 1 Clairton (8-0) and No. 3 Jeannette (8-1) square off at 11 a.m. Saturday at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium for the Class A title.

Clairton won the first meeting, 34-28, and Wade expects another good battle.

In the past four meetings, the teams are 2-2.

The two historic WPIAL programs have a combined record of 1,466-679-81; Jeannette is No. 1 in the WPIAL all-time with a record of 764-319-40. They’ve also combined for 23 WPIAL titles, 14 for Clairton, and seven PIAA titles.

In head-to-head matchups in the WPIAL playoffs, Clairton won in the 2015 and 2016 finals and Jeannette won in the 2017 semifinals en route to WPIAL and PIAA championships.

“After playing them in Week 1, I knew they would be one of our toughest opponents and we would see them again,” Wade said. “Both teams have gotten better after slow starts. I’m just happy we got to play the season.”

While Jeannette wasn’t affected by the coronavirus, Clairton did lose one game against Bishop Canevin.

“We’ve moved some guys around since that first game,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “We have a different center (Ryan Kimmel) and different guys in the lineup. They look pretty much the same. You have a team like Clairton, why make any changes?”

Clairton gashed Jeannette with a strong running game in the first meeting as senior Dontae Sanders rushed for 210 yards and three touchdowns. His cousin, senior quarterback Jonte Sanders, completed 5-of-10 passes for 101 yards and touchdowns to Isaiah Berry (24 yards) and Brooklyn Cannon (67 yards).

Jeannette got a 59-yard touchdown run from Roberto Smith Jr., and freshman Brad Birch, in his high school debut, completed 21-of-32 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns to James Sanders (20 and 57 yards) and Toby Cline (20 yards).

“Birch is doing a good job for a freshman,” Wade said. “There is a lot of talent around him, but it’s amazing the stuff he’s doing.”

Birch tossed three touchdown passes to his brother Brett in the Jeannette’e 40-13 win against Rochester in the semifinals. Brett Birch was kept off the scoreboard in the first meeting against Clairton.

Jeannette also rushed for more than 200 yards against Rochester with Smith Jr. racking up 134 yards and two touchdowns.

The Jayhawks defense did a good job controlling Rochester’s ground game, and Hall knows a similar effort is needed against Clairton.

“They can throw it some, but I think they are better at running the ball,” Hall said. “What they’ll do is try to lull you to sleep with the run and then pop a pass. You have to be ready for it.

“We’re probably going to make adjustments and put in some new wrinkles that they haven’t seen. The biggest thing is you have to make the tackle.”

Jeannette did a good job of that against Rochester.

“They were able to get Rochester to do things it’s not used to,” Wade said. “When they went up two touchdowns, Rochester was forced to throw the ball.

“We are capable of throwing the ball with Jonte. He’s done a nice job moving from wide receiver to quarterback. He was good at making the proper reads.”

Jeannette’s defense had four interceptions against Rochester. Making picks were Cline, Smith Jr., Brett Birch and Elijah Binakonsky.

“We’d love to get four turnovers against Clairton,” Hall said. “They can be a game-changer. We have to play our best game, and we have to minimize mistakes. Believe me, without a doubt, we have to cut down on penalties. That hurt us the first time.”

Jeannette was penalized 11 times against Rochester. Hall said that might have taken away two more touchdowns from his team.

The winner will advance to the PIAA tournament on Nov. 20 or 21 against the winner of a matchup between Redbank Valley from District 9 and Reynolds from District 10.

Clairton lost to Farrell in the state semifinals in 2019, and Wade said his team has had a chip on its shoulder because it felt it should have won the game.

“Farrell moved up to Class 2A, so we can’t get a shot at them,” Wade said. “Right now we’re focused on Jeannette.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at or via Twitter .

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