Jeannette makes quick work of Avella in WPIAL Class A opening round

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Friday, October 30, 2020 | 10:57 PM


If Jeannette coach Roy Hall was worried his players were looking ahead, they made sure early on Friday night to ease his mind.

The Jayhawks took care of business against an overmatched Avella squad, scoring on their first seven possessions and adding scores on a kickoff return and a fumble return, all in the first half, en route to 62-14 victory in the opening round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs at McKee Stadium.

Jeannette (7-1) will now travel to Rochester, which defeated Springdale 34-17, for a semifinal game Nov. 6. Rochester ended Jeannette’s season in 2018.

Seven Jeannette players scored, including two each by Brett Birch and James Sanders.

Brett Birch opened the scoring by catching an 11-yard touchdown pass from his brother, Brad Birch.

The Jayhawks made it 13-0 following a 39-yard interception return by Brett Birch that set up Kaelan Piscar’s 2-yard touchdown catch. The score was a little eventful as Brad Birch had to chase down a high snap and found Piscar wide open.

Avella (4-3), the second place team from the Tri-County South Conference, didn’t help its cause. The Eagles turned by the ball over three times and failed to convert a fake punt on their 20-yard line in the first quarter.

“To our credit, we took advantage of what they gave us,” Hall said. “We capitalized on the good field position and scored every time we had the ball. Any coach would be pleased with that. We were able to spread things around and got different players involved.”

Brad Birch completed only 7 of 10 passes for 86 yards and four touchdowns. He found his brother on a 23-yard strike in the first quarter and found Toby Cline on a 10-yard hook-up. He also raced 40 yards for a score.

“I know Brad will take the win over his statistics any game,” Hall said. “He showed some speed on his touchdown run.”

James Sander showed off his speed too. He had a 34-yard touchdown run to make it 21-0, and after Avella quarterback K.J. Rush scored to make it 28-7 early in the second quarter, Sanders returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards to make it 35-7.

The return killed Avella’s short-lived momentum.

“That was a big play for us,” Hall said. “It prevented them to get any momentum.”

Noah Sanders’ 34-yard interception return in the second quarter set up Cline’s score as Jeannette capitalized on short fields all night. Six of Jeannette’s seven scoring drives in the first half started in Avella territory.

Before the half was over, Ryan Kimmel returned an Avella fumble 15 yards for a score, and Roberto Smith Jr., who rushed for a game-high 86 yards, scored on 1-yard plunge.

Jeannette led 62-7 at halftime.

The Jayhawks outgained Avella, 314-127, with 218 yards coming on the ground. Avella rushed for 42 yards.

“We had a lot big plays to go along with the short field,” Hall said. “The stats were good, but a win is a win, and you take that any way you can get it. It didn’t seem like we rushed for more than 200 yards.”

Now the Jayhawks, who were hoping for a home game in the semifinals, get a shot at Rochester and its vaunted ground game.

“The players and coaches were already talking about Rochester,” Hall said. “We’ll be ready. They beat us two years ago.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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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