Jeannette defense hopes to continue causing havoc in PIAA title game

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Thursday, November 26, 2020 | 9:28 AM


One more gigantic test remains for the Jeannette football team.

That’s what the defense faces at 11 a.m. Friday in the PIAA Class A championship game at Hersheypark Stadium.

High-powered Steelton-Highspire strolls into the chocolate capitol of the world with a powerful running back and dangerous group of wide receivers who will test the Jayhawks.

But heading into this final game of the season, the Jeannette defense has stood tall against everyone it has faced, taking away what the opponents like to do best and creating turnovers.

Jeannette’s defense has picked off 28 passes and recovered 22 fumbles in 2020. The defense and special teams have combined to score 13 touchdowns.

Brett Birch intercepted two passes, and Braydon Penn returned a fumble 38 yards for a touchdown against Reynolds in the state semifinals.

The defense set the tone in the WPIAL championship game against Clairton. Sophomore linebacker Elijah Binakonsky’s crushing hit on Clairton running back Dontae Sanders on the first play of the game caused a fumble that Toby Cline recovered.

Later in the first quarter, sophomore linebacker Jaydin Canady’s strip sack caused a fumble that he scooped up and raced 41 yards for the game’s first touchdown.

And when Jeannette’s defense is being disruptive and causing turnovers, the offense usually finishes teams off.

“The defense has been playing really well,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “They’ll have to come up with another big effort on Friday. Hopefully, we can get a few turnovers.”

In the playoffs alone, the Jeannette defense and special teams have scored six touchdowns. Ryan Kimmel returned a fumble for a score against Avella, and James Sanders had a kickoff return.

Brett Birch had a punt return for a score at Rochester. The Jayhawks also had three interceptions in that game. Canady returned a blocked punt for a score against Clairton, and then last week, the defense bottled up Reynolds’ running game.

“Coach Bennie (Binakonsky) and the staff have done a great job getting the players prepared,” Hall said. “Steelton-Highspire will be another huge test because of its athletes. They are a mirror image of us.”

Elijah Binakonsky is the team’s leading tackler with 67. He also has three sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Kaelan Piscar is next with 62 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and nine tackles for loss, and sophomore Taishaun Jamison has 39 tackles and 12 tackles for loss. Kimmel has 40 tackles, three sacks and six tackles for loss.

Brett Birch, Cline and Roberto Smith Jr. have four interceptions each. Birch also has six pass breakups. The Sanders brothers, James and Noah, have three interceptions each.

The secondary will be tested by Steelton-Highspire freshman quarterback Alex Erby, who has thrown for 2,308 yards and 31 touchdowns, and his talented receiving corps, which is headlined by four-star recruit Mehki Flowers (56 catches) and senior Damein Hammonds (41).

“They have some tall receivers,” James Sanders said. “We’ll just have to out work them and make sure we tackle well.”

Juniors Basil Wilson and Louis Calloway split time replacing Cline against Reynolds. Both made huge plays in stopping the Reynolds’ running game.

“Because of injuries, we actually had players playing out of position, and they still did a great job,” Hall said. “This is a special group and a pleasure to coach. They play together, and they encourage each other.”

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

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