Jeannette punishes Clairton in shocking WPIAL championship blowout

Saturday, November 14, 2020 | 1:58 PM

Jeannette captured the 10th WPIAL title in school history by shocking No. 1 Clairton, 45-14, in the Class A championship game Saturday at North Hills’ Martorelli Stadium.

The Jayhawks (9-1) reversed a season-opening loss to the Bears by capitalizing on numerous Clairton mistakes.

It was the first time since 2004 that Clairton (8-1) lost in the championship game. Since then, the Bears won on 10 consecutive trips to the finals. Meanwhile, it was Jeannette’s first win against the Bears in the title game after losing in 2015 and ’16. It was the Jayhawks’ first title since ’17.

It was the first time since the PIAA established the mercy rule that a team did it against Clairton.

“I’d be lying if I thought we’d mercy rule Clairton,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “Just like other things in the world, I’d be lying. I thought we had a good chance to win, but this, no way. Our team believed. Our coaches believed. We had a great gameplan.”

When Clairton opened the season with a 34-28 win at Jeannette, the Bears did it with a strong ground game. Senior Dontae Sanders rushed for 210 yards and three touchdowns.

But this game was a lot different. Sanders separated his right shoulder playing defense in the first quarter, according to Clairton coach Wayne Wade, and missed the remainder of the game.

And Jeannette’s defense, which was set to stop the Bears running game, pounced.

Clairton found out right away this was a different Jeannette defense. On Sanders’ first carry, sophomore Elijah Binakonsky crashed into the 6-foot-2, 235-pound back and forced a fumble that Toby Cline recovered.

Even though Jeannette didn’t score after the fumble, the defense came up big on the Bears’ next possession when sophomore defensive end Jaydin Canady stripped the ball away from quarterback Jonte Sanders and rumbled 40-yard for a score to stun Clairton.

“The play was meant for me,” Canady said about the sack and score. “We locked down their best running back. We played good.”

Said Wade: “We turned the ball over on the first play, and it kind of felt like a game six years ago in the PIAA playoffs against Berlin Brothersvalley,” Wade said. “We didn’t have a great week. We came out and turned the ball over and made a ton of mistakes. We had to fight an uphill battle the entire game.

“That’s what it was today. My hat’s off to Jeannette. They’re a good football team, and hopefully they can win it all.”

Things got worse for Clairton in the first quarter as Jeannette’s Roberto Smith Jr. recovered the ensuing onside kick at the Clairton 38. Six plays later, freshman quarter Brad Birch raced 19 yards for a score to make it 13-0.

Jeannette pushed its lead to 21-0 when Smith Jr. intercepted a Jonte Sanders pass and returned it 37 yards to the Clairton 18, and Birch hit Kaelan Piscar on a 17-yard strike.

Clairton made it 21-7 late in the first quarter on a 5-yard run by Greg Lee following a 54-yard pass to Brooklyn Cannon.

Late in the first half, following an interception, Jeannette’s defense turned Clairton away when Canady picked off a pass in the end zone to preserve a 21-7 lead at halftime.

“Our defense came up big.” Smith Jr. said. “Everyone believed we could beat them. We knew we had it when we forced them to throw.”

Jeannette, aided by a roughing-the-passer call early in the third quarter, pushed the lead to 24-7 when Smith Jr. converted on a 29-yard field.

Smith Jr. had a huge game. He recovered a fumble, picked off a pass, booted a field goal, scored a touchdown and threw a touchdown pass.

He switched to quarterback from running back after Birch injured his left ankle on a run during the field-goal drive.

“Not scoring at the end of the first half was huge,” Wade said. “We were still in the game and were playing well defensively, and we told them at halftime that if we got a stop and scored, we’d be back in the game. But the roughing-the-passer call was a tough one because it allowed them to get the field goal.”

Jeannette’s defense and special teams put the game away. Binakonsky pushed Clairton’s blockers back into the punter, which resulted in Canady scooping and scoring from 25 yards to make it 32-7.

After forcing a punt, the Jayhawks upped the lead to 38-7. Canady ripped off a 33-yard run to set up a 1-yard run by Smith Jr.

Cline’s interception stopped Clairton’s next drive at the Jeannette 20. They Jayhawks marched to the Clairton 31, and on fourth down, Smith Jr. hit Piscar down the sideline for a touchdown.

Jeannette outgained Clairton, 241-193, with the majority of Clairton’s yards coming in the final quarter on the arm on Jonte Sanders, who completed 6 of 20 passes for 139 yards. Jeannette rushed for 164 yards with Birch leading the way with 62 yards. Smith Jr. had 52 and Canady 42.

“Our defense played well,” Hall said. “Clairton has a great team and great athletes. We squibbed the ball to prevent them from getting big returns.”

Jeannette will enter the PIAA playoffs and play at District 10’s Reynolds in the PIAA semifinals Friday or Saturday.

Watch an archived video stream of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

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

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