Quartet of Westmoreland County teams aim to finish regular season undefeated

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Thursday, October 26, 2017 | 4:51 PM


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Jeannette has rolled through the Eastern Conference with the swiftness and unbroken stride of a sprinter in the 100-meter dash. Opponents, they have simply tried to keep up, only with the pace and speed of a two-miler.

The Jayhawks have yet to lose a race.

Jeannette is one of four Westmoreland County football teams looking to cap a perfect regular season this weekend, joining Penn-Trafford, Belle Vernon and Ligonier Valley among the unbeaten.

A long regular season that started in Week Zero for some could end with zero losses for others.

Jeannette, Penn-Trafford and Ligonier Valley have 9-0 records. Belle Vernon is 8-0.

The county has not had that many undefeated teams this deep into a season since 1996, when Jeannette, Belle Vernon, Valley and Monessen went into their regular-season finales unblemished.

It only has happened on two other occasions: 1964 (Arnold, Kiski Area, Greensburg Central Catholic and Southmoreland), and 1927 (Jeannette, Greensburg, Mt. Pleasant Hurst and West Newton).

In 2011, Jeannette, Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional all took 9-0 marks into the playoffs.

Last year, Derry and Ligonier Valley rolled into the postseason unbeaten. The long shots captivated the county.

Jeannette leads the county in undefeated regular seasons with 18.

The Jayhawks' stage for potential perfection just so happens to be Clairton. They have struggled to overcome the powerhouse Bears.

Clairton, which has fallen slightly out of favor and slipped to No. 5, has beaten Jeannette five straight times, including the last two WPIAL title games, and has kept Jeannette from Class A Eastern Conference championships the last three years.

Jeannette has clinched at least a share of the conference this season — its first, surprisingly, in six years — but wants a win Friday to take it outright and possibly get the No. 1 seed.

“I thought about us having undefeated regular seasons the last two years, and it came down to Clairton,” Jayhawks coach Roy Hall said. “Hopefully, we can finish it off this time.”

Top-ranked Jeannette — also No. 4 in the state rankings — last finished a regular season undefeated in 2011. Hall has preached that fact to the team all week.

Just up Route 130, meanwhile, Penn-Trafford sits a win away from its first 10-0 regular season. The Warriors have secured at least a share of the Class 5A Big East title but, like Jeannette, can have it all to themselves with a win Friday at No. 3 McKeesport.

“McKeesport is our top rival; we have a war with them every year and respect the heck out of them,” Warriors coach John Ruane said. “We better go over there with the right mindset, or they'll show us what's up. I think our kids are mature enough to understand that and we will. We want to play for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs now, and we can't have a slip-up there.”

Penn-Trafford, which has 11 conference titles now, including four under Ruane and four since 2011, have finished unbeaten in the regular season four times (2000, ‘11, ‘14 and ‘15).

Penn-Trafford hit a rough patch last season, losing three straight to Gateway, Franklin Regional and Armstrong, and missed the playoffs despite a 7-3 record. The Warriors won those games this year and have surged to the No. 1 ranking in the WPIAL and No. 4 in the state.

“You have to credit the kids for that,” Ruane said. “They showed a ton of want-to. We had a long offseason of reflecting on what we did wrong. We achieved more than we did a year ago, but what we want to accomplish a lot more. Our goal is to win a championship.”

The Warriors are riding an 11-game winning streak.

Belle Vernon has 15 conference titles after winning the Class 4A Big Nine with an 8-0 mark this season. The Leopards, up to fourth in the state rankings, knocked off mighty Thomas Jefferson, 21-17.

They have capped unbeaten regular seasons in 2015, 2000 and 1999.

“I think we've revived the Belle Vernon dynasty of the '90s but we aren't done yet,” senior lineman and Pitt recruit Blake Zubovic said. “We are looking forward to a deep playoff run capped off with a trip to Heinz (Field). And the beauty of it is that it's all a team effort.”

The Leopards travel to winless Ambridge on Friday to close out their nine-week regular season.

“Having an undefeated season is a hard undertaking,” Belle Vernon coach Matt Humbert said. “So many things can happen throughout the course of a season. Each win brings pride and excitement to the team, students and the community. It drives and motivates the student-athletes to work harder so that they may continue their success.”

And Ligonier Valley, one of the most potent teams in the state the last two seasons, will strive for 10-0 when it hosts Berlin Brothersvalley (9-0) on Saturday night in the rejuvenated Appalachian Bowl, a game that pits the Heritage Conference champion against the champion of the WestPAC league.

Ligonier Valley, ranked No. 5 in the state, is averaging 50.3 points. The Rams went 14-1 last season and reached the PIAA Class 2A semifinals.

Another lengthy playoff run could lie ahead.

“Going undefeated in conference play for two years in a row means a lot to our program,” Rams coach Roger Beitel said. “The last time anyone has accomplished this feat in our conference was 2005, which proves how difficult it is. I am very proud of our players because they worked even harder this offseason because they wanted to prove that there was more to our team than just (graduates) Collin Smith and Elijah Parrish.”

The wins have added up for Beitel: last week's 58-0 triumph over Purchase Line was the 100th for the coach, who has guided the Rams for 14 years.

Correction: Jeannette's 1971 team was omitted from an earlier version of the story.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner. George Guido contributed.

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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