No. 1 Jayhawks prepare for rare test from No. 5 OLSH

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Friday, October 4, 2019 | 5:05 PM


Zach Crutchman and his Jeannette teammates are aware of the state and WPIAL rankings — and the Jayhawks’ lofty No. 1 position in both.

The state ranking is new and, while it hasn’t exactly been a shock to their system, they know all about it.

“Now we have to back it up that we’re No. 1,” said Crutchman, a senior offensive lineman and defensive end.

Their next game is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Jeannette (6-0) is expected to get a rare test Saturday night when it takes on WPIAL No. 5-ranked Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (5-1), the defending WPIAL Class A champions, in an intriguing nonconference game at Moon High School’s Tiger Stadium.

The Jayhawks have faced little resistance so far with their team speed, depth and dominant defensive front.

Jeannette’s defense has given up a meager 18 points, the lowest total in the WPIAL. It has four consecutive shutouts and the defense has not been scored upon since Week Zero against East Allegheny – a span of 20 straight quarters.

An opponent has not scored rushing touchdown all season and Jeannette has given up just 214 yards rushing in six games (35.7 a game).

“If we can shut them out, we can send a message,” Crutchman said. “They are the defending WPIAL champs.”

OLSH is unlike most of Jeannette’s opponents. The Chargers have athleticism, an experienced front line and a running attack with which to be concerned.

Dual-threat quarterback Jaymar Pearson is just a sophomore but is a dangerous perimeter runner.

“The key is keeping him in the pocket,” Crutchman said. “Our C-gap pass-rushers need to do their jobs.”

Pearson ran for 180 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 130 yards and three scores in last week’s 41-33 win over Laurel.

OLSH has been prone to giving up some points. Its other wins have come against City League team Westinghouse (33-30), Northgate (42-13) and Rochester (42-12). Bishop Canevin forfeited to the Chargers.

“We are definitely younger this season,” OLSH coach Dan Bradley said. “We graduated 15 seniors from last year’s team, and many were two- and three-year starters. We start a lot of freshmen and sophomores in key positions.”

Pearson, who was on the same summer 7-on-7 team as Jeannette’s Brett Birch, is playing with confidence.

“To me, every time I get the ball and I’m running, the first thing that comes to my mind is that I’m scoring a touchdown,” Pearson said last week. “There’s no way I’m going down unless the entire team is on me.”

Toby Cline has been doing his best to mimic Pearson this week in practice. The Jayhawks are determined to clamp their defensive jaws around the Chargers and their big-play potential.

Jeannette coach Roy Hall respects Pearson’s game but said the Chargers are more than just the young quarterback.

“You want to contain him, but you can’t put everything you have on him,” Hall said. “No. 23 (sophomore Stephen Greer) is a stocky kid. He’s had a couple nice long touchdown runs for them.”

Bobby Brazell and Eric Olexa are pass-catching threats for OLSH, while the team also can run with Brock Saffner.

Hall said the No. 1 state ranking has not been discussed at practice.

“We don’t bring it up,” he said. “We were No. 1 last year and look where that got us. We don’t talk a lot about (rankings). You still have to play the game. You see how quickly things can change in college and the pros.”

Jeannette’s offense has been potent. The team is scoring 43.5 points a game and doing so with balance: 957 yards passing and 929 rushing.

Junior quarterback James Sanders has thrown for 785 yards and 13 touchdowns, while senior Imani Sanders has 514 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Imani Sanders leads Jeannette with 14 touchdowns.

Multiple players have rushed and caught the ball. Birch has a team-leading 14 receptions for 135 yards and two TDs, while senior Jackson Pruitt has 11 catches for 179 yards and four scores.

“They’re a well-coached team with offensive balance,” Bradley said. “Defensively, they’re aggressive and sound in their approach.”

Jeannette beat OLSH last year, 28-13, at McKee Stadium. The Jayhawks swarmed OLSH quarterback Tyler Bradley, a 8,000-yard career passer who now is a freshman at Seton Hill. He attempted 41 passes and threw for 291 yards in the loss but was sacked six times.

Farrell later applied the same defensive approach to beat the Chargers in the PIAA semifinals, 41-10.

Jeannette was scheduled for a light practice Friday and then a pregame walk-through early Saturday.

“It’s one of the only games on the schedule (Saturday), so we’re expecting a big crowd,” Hall said.

Bradley said taking care of the football will be critical.

“The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win,” he said.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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