Sto-Rox ends Jeannette’s season with defensive gem

Friday, November 1, 2019 | 11:20 PM

Measuring by points allowed per game, Sto-Rox and Jeannette had the two best defenses in WPIAL Class A this season.

Sto-Rox’s defense was harder to crack Friday night.

The third-seeded Vikings won a playoff game for the first time since 2013, knocking off the sixth-seeded Jayhawks, 15-6, in a first-round matchup at Sto-Rox.

Jeannette, which got off to a 9-0 start, saw its season end with a two-game losing streak — a loss to Clairton in the regular-season finale before Friday’s setback.

Credit the Vikings defense for forcing three turnovers, including a first-quarter interception return for a touchdown by Brennan Harris that ended up giving his team the lead for good about four minutes in.

For second-year head coach LaRoi Johnson of Sto-Rox, the win came in large part due to the defense, and he said he was proud of the “extraordinary effort” his guys showed in the victory.

“The defense stepped up and played tremendous while the offense was a little slow, which I expected with two good defenses on the field,” Johnson said. “I told our defensive coordinator it would come down to them and staying aggressive, but it’s about who can keep who down. We were able to do that.”

The mistakes continued for the Jayhawks, as quarterback James Sanders threw a second interception two drives later.

In the second quarter, Jeannette’s long snapper sent a ball over the head of the punter and into the end zone. The punter picked it up, ran a bit, then scampered out of the back of the end zone, giving Sto-Rox a safety and making it 9-0 at the half.

“They won the game. They scored one touchdown. We scored one touchdown. You can’t spot a team nine points,” said Roy Hall, Jeannette’s 11th-year head coach. “When you do that, it’s hard to overcome. We didn’t generate much offense, but our defense played well. Offense was a strength for us all year, but we didn’t play well the last two games.”

“They say offense wins games and defense wins championships, but you’ve got to have both,” Hall added.

Jeannette got its only points deep in the third quarter when, after an interception by the Jayhawk defense, the offense punched it in. Imani Sanders scored from 2 yards out, but the point-after try missed left, keeping the score at 9-6.

In the fourth, after a long screen pass from Eric Wilson to Zay Davis moved the Vikings into the red zone, Davis punched the ball in from 6 yards away to make it 15-6 and ice the game.

With the screen pass, Wilson tied Drew Saxton for seventh on the all-time WPIAL passing yardage list with 7,452 career yards through the air. Wilson finished with 149 passing yards.

“Zay has outstanding speed, and we almost hit that play earlier in the game,” Johnson said. “I was just so happy we got it off. The time before, Zay ran into one of our lineman. That was a big play for us.”

It’s the first playoff win for Sto-Rox since the 2013 Class A semifinals, when the Vikings bested fourth-seeded Clairton.

It’s also the first playoff win for Johnson in his second year as the head coach of the Vikings, and the first for the senior class.

“I tell them all the time, it doesn’t matter how many games we win in the regular season, we have to find a way to win in the playoffs where everything is magnified,” Johnson said. “We have been learning how to win and become winners every single time we play.

“I’m happy and hoping this one helps people finally give us the respect we deserve for what we’ve been doing over here. I get it. There are some talented teams, but we deserve some credit as well.”

Johnson said he’s a big 24-hours guy. He will let his team and his staff enjoy the win for 24 hours, but not a second later, he’ll be hard at work getting ready for next Friday’s semifinal against second-seeded West Greene, which beat No. 7 Greensburg Central Catholic, 36-0.

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