Jeannette football turns season of distractions into memorable run

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Sunday, November 29, 2020 | 5:22 PM


The Jeannette football team experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat during the 2020 season.

It was a season of uncertainty — a shortened season with the specter of covid-19 looming constantly. It also was thrilling, with their 10th WPIAL championship.

But Friday, the season ended with a tough loss. The Jayhawks fell short in their bid for a third PIAA title.

A 32-20 loss to Steelton-Highspire in the PIAA Class A championship game at Hersheypark Stadium ended what was a fantastic season.

“I never thought we’d get the season in,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “It was a season full of distractions.”

How close was Jeannette from winning another PIAA title? Maybe inches.

A shoelace tackle on Toby Cline on a screen pass that gained 44 yards. A pass that could have gone for a touchdown slipping through a receiver’s fingers and instead winding up as an interception. A drop on another potential big gainer. A couple of overthrows. A couple of missed tackles.

Jeannette had its chances. But the Jayhawks battled to the end.

Steelton-Highspire coach Andrew Erby was impressed how Jeannette never quit. He knew his team couldn’t let up.

“We had our opportunities, and we had the momentum but things didn’t go our way,” Hall said. “After that first pick-six, a lot of teams would have caved. But we came back fighting. We came strong and scored, and we had a golden opportunity and then we had another turnover.”

Jeannette got big games from senior quarterback Roberto Smith Jr. and wide receivers Cline, Brad Birch, James Sanders and Kaelan Piscar.

Smith Jr. missed tying the state championship record for yards. He threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns. Smith Jr. played because freshman quarterback Brad Birch was out with a broken left foot.

Smith Jr. was the starting running back until Brad Birch was injured in the WPIAL Class A championship game against Clairton.

“Roberto was outstanding,” Hall said. “For being a backup quarterback, he did a pretty good job.”

Cline had seven catches for 149 yards. Birch had six catches for 98 yards. Sanders had five catches for 112 yards, and Piscar three catches for 22 yards. Piscar also had a 37-yard catch denied by a penalty.

“We’re a brotherhood. We pull for each other,” Cline said. “We just made too many mistakes.”

Even though the Jeannette defense had trouble slowing down Steelton-Highspire’s’ running game, they forced five turnovers. Birch and Cline had interceptions, and Elijah Binakonsky, Birch and Basil Wilson recovered fumbles.

“The defense gave as an opportunity by turning them over,” Hall said. “We have a nice nucleus returning, but it’s going to tough to replace Toby, James, Kaelan, Roberto and Emilio (Huerta). Hopefully, we can replace those seniors.”

Jeannette has the Birches returning. Brad Birch threw for 1,676 yards and 31 touchdowns. Brett Birch was the team’s leading receiver.

Hall must replace a couple of linemen, some wide receivers and another capable running back.

The defense will return Binakonsky, the team’s leading tackler, Wilson, Jaydin Canady, Tyshaun Jamison, Birch, Tyler Horn, Louis Calloway and Ryan Kimmel.

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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