Jeannette’s defense dominates in run to PIAA Class A title
Friday, December 8, 2017 | 9:57 PM
Roy Hall couldn't stop smiling Thursday after his Jeannette football team won the PIAA Class A Championship at Hersheypark Stadium.
Hall's Jayhawks used a big game from Robert Kennedy, who accounted for four touchdowns, and a dominating defense in a 42-12 victory against Homer-Center.
What had people talking was how Jeannette's defense shut down Homer-Center's powerful running game, which featured two 1,000-yard running backs – Jesse Lee and Michael McCracken. Lee finished with 47 yards and McCracken 58.
Both rushed for more than 100 yards each in their previous two playoff games, and the Wildcats rushed for 322 yards against Steelton-Highspire. Jeannette held them to 131.
The Homer-Center band played sounds that resembled a train chugging down the tracks. That train was derailed by Jeannette.
Hall said assistant coach Charlie Cook likes to say ‘offense wins football games. Defense wins championships.'
Jeannette's defense, led by defensive linemen Anthony Johnson, Jalen Jones and Cameron Felbaum along with linebackers Justin Cramer, Ian Smith, Tre Cunningham, Melik Gordon, Zack Berginc and Hunter Yates, was dominant the past four games.
• Clairton did not cross the 50-yard line in the first half of the WPIAL semifinals. After allowing a scoring drive, Jeannette — led by Jones and Johnson — made life miserable for the Bears offense.
• Talented Imani Christian scored 34 points, including a score on a fumble return, in the WPIAL championship. But Jeannette's defense set up the winning touchdown with an interception and stopped a go-ahead 2-point conversion.
• In the PIAA semifinals, Jeannette's defense did not allow points to Farrell, which averaged 43 coming into the game. The Steelers only score was on a kickoff return. The Jayhawks' secondary has three interceptions, two by Kennedy. Isaac Clarke had thrown just one interception before running into Jeannette.
• Then there was Thursday. After allowing a 93-yard touchdown drive on Homer-Center's first possession, the defense overwhelmed the Wildcats' run game and massive offensive line, which averaged 266 pounds and featured two 300-pound tackles. Jeannette's defensive line averaged 208.
“We dared Homer-Center to pass,” Hall said. “We made a few adjustments and blitzed more after that first drive and started hitting the gaps. We used our quickness to slow them down. We felt if we forced them to throw, we'd be in good shape.”
Homer-Center coach Greg Page said Jeannette did a good job controlling the middle, which surprised him.
“We needed to sustain some drives,” Page said. “And once we fell behind, our offense isn't made for quick comebacks.”
When Homer-Center passed, other than an early 27-yard completion on the first drive, Jeannette was ready. Safety Marcus Barnes had an interception. and defensive back Jackson Pruitt and Smith knocked down others. Kennedy and Imani Sanders, who shared time with Pruitt, provided good coverage,
“Since the second Clairton game, the defense has played well and got back to playing Jeannette football,” Hall said. “We got our swagger back and we were aggressive and hitting people. The kids believed in what we were saying.”
Kennedy, who finished the season with 12 interception, said the defense came together.
“We were solid at all three levels,” Kennedy said.
Hall said when Johnson and Jones started making big plays, the rest of the defense fed off them.
Big play 'Hawks
Jeannette's offense outgained Homer-Center, 451-163, and the Jayhawks did it was big plays.
The Jayhawks had 16 plays of 10 yards or more, including a 56-yard touchdown run and 46-yard reception by Kennedy, a 44-yard reception by Seth Howard, a 37-yard reception by Barnes, a 25-yard touchdown reception by Berginc and a 29-yard touchdown catch by Cunningham.
Berginc and Cunningham scored on fourth-and-long plays on passes from Kennedy.
Homer-Center's longest play was a 27-yard pass to Tim Alcon.
This and that
The two schools are only 35 miles apart, but because there are so many Class A and 2A teams in the WPIAL and District 6, the PIAA places District 6 teams in the eastern bracket. That's why there were two Western Pennsylvania teams playing in the finals. … On Wednesday, both teams had an impromptu meeting at the Sliding Hill Plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. They sat next to each other and had lunch. … Jeannette's Ian Smith and Homer-Center's Cobe Daugherty are related. … The paid attendance for the Class A game was 2,112. Wonder what the attendance would have been if the game was played in the area instead of having the teams each traveling nearly 200 miles to Hershey.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .