Jeannette beats Imani Christian in a game officials stop early because of safety concerns

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Saturday, September 23, 2017 | 8:42 PM


Saturday's WPIAL Class A Eastern Conference first-place showdown between No. 2 Jeannette and high-scoring Imani Christian didn't end in a way befitting its start.

With Jeannette (5-0, 3-0) leading 54-36 with 4 minutes, 30 seconds left, officials called the game after some Imani players, upset with a tackle during a kickoff return, started approaching the Jeannette sidelines.

“I understand the officials' concerns about safety,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “What I'm proud is how our players handled themselves, and the officials backed it up when their players came across the field.

“You hate to see that. It's not good for the game, and they (officials) wanted to see everyone get out safely.”

The game also was delayed with 8:52 left and Jeannette clinging to a 43-36 lead when officials ejected an Imani fan after derogatory remarks were directed at them. Imani was penalized 23 times for 210 yards, which seemed to frustrate the fans sitting in 80-degree heat.

Moments later, a plastic bottle was launched toward the Jeannette bench. A couple fans raced onto the field, and some Imani players raced to the Jeannette sidelines.

After the officials, players and security separated the teams and ushered fans off the field, officials delayed the game until Wilkinsburg police were summoned.

After about a half-hour delay, play resumed, minus five Imani players who were ejected. Those players missed the remainder of the game and, by PIAA rule, must sit out Friday's game at Clairton.

That's when a rested Jeannette defense stepped up and made two key plays to seal the outcome. Malik Gordon fell on a fumble at the Imani 17.

Tre Cunningham then booted a 24-yard field goal to push the Jeannette lead 46-36. On the ensuing kickoff, Seth Howard recovered a fumble at the Imani 28. After a penalty pushed Jeannette back to the 47, quarterback Robert Kennedy tossed a 38-yard dart to Cunningham to the Imani 9. On the next play, Howard scored.

Jeannette didn't escape penalites. The Jayhawks were flagged 14 times for 131 yards.

Before the crazy fourth quarter, the teams exchanged big play after big play.

Jeannette stormed to a 14-0 lead when Kennedy raced 12 yards to open the scoring and then darted 35 yards with an interception.

“That was a great key to the win, but you could see their skill and the way they called their offense that they could score from anywhere on the field,” Hall said. “It was a good win because they are a very good team with three Division I players.”

But Imani (3-2, 2-1) didn't flinch and kept coming back. The Saints showed off their talented offense.

“We weren't able to get them off the field on third down,” Imani coach Ronnell Heard said. “We weren't able to minimize their big plays. I'm proud of the guys for staying in the game”

Asante Watkins' 10-yard run and a 2-point conversion run by Israel Reed made it 14-8.

Kennedy threw a 20-yard scoring strike to Cunningham to make it 20-8 in the second quarter, but Tawan Wesley hit Samuel Fairley for a 66-yard scoring strike.

“We'll celebrate the win now, but tomorrow we'll get back to work,” said Kennedy, who was 11 for 16 for 183 yards. “It's a long season.”

Before the end of the second quarter, Jaylen Jones fell on an Imani fumble in the end zone, and Cunningham booted a 23-yard field. They were sandwiched around an Imani score: a 34-yard touchdown pass to Brian Yates.

Jeannette led 29-20 at the break.

Kennedy opened the second half by returning a punt 56 yards for a score to make it 36-20, but a 55-yard scoring run around left end by Dashawn Wright made it 36-28.

Kennedy's fourth touchdown of the game, a 31-yard run on fourth-and-1, pushed the lead to 43-28, but Wesley connected with Watkins to make it 43-36.

Wesley completed 20 of 28 passes for 320 yards. Fairley had four catches for 171.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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