Jeannette, Clairton to battle for Eastern Conference title, top seed in WPIAL playoffs
Wednesday, October 23, 2019 | 5:34 PM
The Gardner Point System used by the WPIAL to settle tiebreakers for playoff berths and positioning makes football fans, players and coaches cringe.
No. 1-ranked Jeannette (9-0, 5-0) is hoping to avoid any scenario regarding Gardner Points, but that will mean beating No. 2 Clairton (7-2, 5-0) on Friday at Neil C. Brown Stadium.
Not only are the Jayhawks faced with playing an excellent team on the road, a loss would cost them the conference title and likely a chance to host a playoff game.
The stakes are not quite as high for Clairton. If the Bears lose, they still will host a first-round playoff game.
“Regardless what happens on Friday night, I still believe we’re the top teams in Class A,” Clairton coach Wayne Wade said. “I just hope they separate us in the brackets.”
Because the Eastern Conference only has seven teams, and the other two conferences (Tri-County South and Big Seven) have eight, the WPIAL decided to allow teams from the Eastern to add their crossover game with the Tri-County South to their tiebreaker total instead of the Big Seven.
This decision was made before the season. Clairton gets to add the points from a win over West Greene (7-0 in TCS), while Jeannette gets no points for its victory over winless Avella (0-6). Clairton is gaining 70 Gardner points.
If its matchup against Big Seven foe OLSH (5-1 in Big Seven) counted, Jeannette would have gained at least 50 points.
If Jeannette loses Friday, the loser of Cornell or OLSH has the inside track for a home playoff game because it will have at least 760 Gardner points. The current Gardner Points tally lists Clairton (800), California (620) and Cornell and OLSH 590. Cornell plays OLSH on Friday night for second place in the Big Seven. California plays Mapletown (2-7, 1-5).
Jeannette never has beaten Clairton at Neil C. Brown Stadium. The Bears lead the series 6-2 and 2-0 at home.
Jeannette has won the past two meetings, including the 2017 semifinal game 18-6 at Elizabeth Forward after Clairton won the regular-season finale 40-6 at home.
That year, Jeannette went to Clairton undefeated and ranked No. 1, but the Bears used big plays to get the win in the regular season.
Clairton started this season with losses to Class 3A No. 1 Aliquippa and Class 2A No. 5 McGuffey.
“We were short-handed for the first three games,” Wade said. “We had some injuries, some academic issues from the previous school year and other things that slowed us down. Now that we’ve gotten everyone back, we’ve been playing well.”
During the seven-game winning streak, the Bears have posted impressive nonconference home wins against Laurel and West Greene. Laurel suffered its first loss of the season to the Bears, and because of the Gardner Point System and losses to Cornell and OLSH, will miss the playoffs.
“This is a very big game, a rival game for the conference championship and more than likely the No. 1 seed in the playoffs,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “I think the play of both teams this season showed we should be ranked No. 1 and 2 without a doubt.
“They’ve gotten better throughout the season. They’ve gotten players back, and Coach Wade has done a very good job.”
Both teams are loaded with fast playmakers on offense and feature an aggressive defense.
It’s a game Jeannette guard/linebacker Justin Cramer looks forward to each season.
“The games are hard-nosed football games, and both teams looking to win conference titles, usually,” Cramer said. “We are the best two teams in the conference, and when we clash, it’s a tough, physical game.”
Jeannette’s biggest playmakers on offense start with the Sanders brothers. Senior Imani Sanders has rushed for 939 yards and scored 20 touchdowns, and junior quarterback Jimmy Sanders has completed 76 of 120 passes for 1,229 yards and 16 touchdowns.
However, Jimmy Sanders missed last week’s game for undisclosed reasons, and Roberto Smith Jr. replaced him. The Jayhawks didn’t miss a beat.
The Jayhawks have spread the wealth to their receivers: Brett Birch has 22 catches for 239 yards, Jackson Pruitt has 20 catches for 319, Toby Cline has 17 grabs for 270 and Bayley Molter has 12 catches for 275 yards.
The Bears are led by four-year senior quarterback Brendan Parsons, who has completed 72 of 141 passes for 1,198 yards and 13 touchdowns. His main targets are Kenlein Ogletree, with 29 catches for 502 yards and 10 touchdowns, and Jonte Sanders with 18 catches for 245 yards.
Isaiah Berry is the leading rusher with 563 yards and 11 touchdowns. Parsons has rushed for 529 yards.
While neither coach said they’re mirror images of each other, they agreed there were similarities.
Both teams know this will be a high-emotion, suspense-filled atmosphere, and the teams must stay consistent if they want to win.
“I don’t have one thing that sticks out about them except they’re a good football team,” Wade said. “I expect a good one.”
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .