Jeannette turns page on Rochester win, focuses on Clairton rematch

Sunday, November 8, 2020 | 7:12 PM

Jeannette football coach Roy Hall gave his team permission to enjoy Friday’s convincing win at Rochester in the WPIAL Class A semifinals until Saturday.

The hour-plus bus ride back to Jeannette from Rochester provided the Jayhawks time to relish their accomplishment after the No. 3 seed Jayhawks defeated the No. 2 Rams, 40-13.

Soon after it was time to focus on another meeting with No. 1 Clairton, this time in the Class A championship game at 11 a.m. Saturday at North Hills Martorelli Stadium.

After allowing two long scoring drives in the first half, the Jayhawks defense took control.

On the Rams next seven possessions, they ran 33 plays and gained only 64 yards. Four drives ended on interceptions by Toby Cline, Brett Birch, Roberto Smith Jr. and Elijah Binakonsky — and another ended with a Birch 71-yard punt return.

It was a stark reversal from the game the teams played in 2018 when Rochester dominated the line of scrimmage in a 27-0 victory.

“They embarrassed us that night,” Hall said of the 2018 meeting. “They had eight quarterback sacks. (On Friday) our lines played really well.”

Rochester coach Gene Matsook praised Jeannette’s line for opening up holes in the running game.

“Their line did a good job on us a little bit. They got some push up front, which gave them the edge,” Matsook said. “We were still in the game until the last quarter. Jeannette has players that have been around the block.”

Jeannette rushed for 233 yards, with Smith Jr. rushing for 134 yards and two touchdowns and freshman quarterback Brad Birch rushing for 61 yards.

Birch also completed 14 of 23 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, all to his brother Brett.

The offensive line also kept their quarterback clean, giving him plenty of time to throw.

Eastern Conference rivals Jeannette (8-1) and Clairton (8-0) met in the first game of the season, with the Bears rallying for a 34-28 victory.

Brad Birch tossed three touchdown passes, two to James Sanders, and Smith Jr. raced 59 yards for a score.

Clairton got two touchdown passes from Jonte Sanders and two touchdown runs from his cousin Dontae. Jeannette led 21-20 at halftime.

Birch, in his high school debut, completed 21 of 32 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns. James Sanders had nine catches for 148 yards, and Cline had seven catches for 82 yards.

Clairton used a strong ground attack, rushing for 308 yards, 210 by Dontae Sanders.

Both teams have put up a lot of points in the playoffs. Jeannette defeated Avella, 62-14, and Rochester. Clairton has beaten Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 54-20, and Shenango, 55-16.

This is the third time the teams have met in the finals. Clairton won 40-0 in 2015 and 26-6 a year later. Jeannette won in the ‘17 semifinals, 18-7.

“It’s what we expected,” Hall said about playing Clairton in the finals. “We’ll watch film and get ready for the Bears.”

Clairton coach Wayne Wade said before the first meeting of the season, he truly expected to meet Jeannette again. His prediction came true.

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

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