Leechburg wins at Jeannette for first time

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Friday, October 1, 2021 | 10:54 PM


Leechburg’s superb season continued Friday night against one of the WPIAL’s winningest programs.

It was a sweet outcome for the Blue Devils, who routed Jeannette, 53-7, in a WPIAL Class A Eastern Conference game for their first victory at storied McKee Stadium.

This isn’t your average Leechburg football team. The Blue Devils haven’t finished with a winning record in 31 years, and they haven’t been to the playoffs for 32 consecutive seasons.

“We’ve never beaten a Jeannette team on this field. Never,” Leechburg coach Randy Walters said. “That speaks for what it is for all those people who were up there in the stands, all the dads, all the moms, all the grandpas. The kids have really taken that to heart. They do a very nice job.”

Braylen Lovelace and Thomas Burke III combined for more than 400 yards of total offense to lead No. 4 Leechburg (5-1, 2-1), which entered the game averaging a Class A-leading 46 points per game.

Lovelace rushed for 220 yards and three touchdowns and Burke passed for 202 yards and three scores for the Blue Devils, whose only loss is to top-ranked Clairton.

Leechburg entered the Trib’s WPIAL rankings for the first time this week after beating Springdale, 41-22, a week ago.

The victory put a smile on Walters’ face, something he hasn’t been able to do in recent weeks. He was on the sideline Friday night, but assistant coach JohnAllen Snyder ran the show for a second consecutive week as Walters continued to recover from an injury that caused complications and hospitalized the second-year coach for a time.

“I’m doing good. I’m getting there,” Walters said. “Coach Snyder and my staff did a (great) job the last two weeks. I didn’t have a lot to do with it.”

Walters joked that doctors told him he’s “old and only getting older. But I’ll be back next week.”

Leechburg entertains No. 3 Bishop Canevin on Friday night.

Meanwhile, Jeannette, decimated by the loss of multiple players before the start of the season, certainly isn’t your usual Jeannette squad this year. The Jayhawks are perennial playoff contenders and just last season made it all the way to the PIAA Class A championship game before losing to Steelton-Highspire.

“We have 32 players on the team and none of them are returning starters,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said, echoing a sentiment that reverberated throughout the community. “I don’t believe in moral victories, but our guys played their butts off tonight. This is the best game … I know the score doesn’t show it, but this is the best we’ve played all year, especially in the first quarter and a half.

“We got worn down.”

Hall said Jeannette’s winning tradition is well-known.

“When a team gets an opportunity to beat Jeannette, they’re going to get you. And rightfully so,” he said.

“We told our guys they’re going to be up to get us. There’s nothing better than beating you on your home field, and they took advantage of it. They’ve got a nice squad.”

Jeannette (1-5, 1-2) matched Leechburg early on but quickly fell behind and couldn’t keep pace.

Leechburg scored on its first possession on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Burke to Jayden Floyd, who caught a deflection into the end zone off the hands of intended receiver Tyler Foley for a 7-0 lead.

Jeannette came back and tied it 7-7 on Tyler Horn’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Payton Molter.

Leechburg went in front for good in the second quarter, Burke firing downfield on the run and finding Logan Kline for an 82-yard scoring strike for a 14-7 Blue Devils lead.

Eli Rich’s 2-yard scoring run 4 minutes, 5 seconds before halftime made it 21-7.

The Jeannette defense bent late but held the Blue Devils out of the end zone before the half ended after Leechburg reached the Jayhawks 1.

The misery set in for Jeannette in the second half as Leechburg turned the heat up and outscored the Jayhawks 32-0 to ignite a running clock in the fourth quarter.

Lovelace raced 80 yards for a touchdown to set the second-half scoring in motion. That was followed by a 4-yard keeper by Burke and another TD pass — this one 31 yards — to Kline, then a pair of Lovelace touchdowns of 41 and 26 yards.

“We’ve got some really good skill people and at this level, that’s what you need,” Walters said. “We were making some mistakes early and Jeannette had some juice. But once our kids settled down and started to play, they did what we thought they could do. But obviously anytime they respond, you’ve got to respond yourself or you start going the other way. It was a big response.”

Jeannette sophomore Qjwonez Jackson was injured in the final minute and carried off on a stretcher. Hall said the extent of the injury was unknown after Jackson landed on his head, but the player was conscious and moving. He was taken to a Pittsburgh hospital for observation.

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