Talented skill players set to lead Jeannette in Eastern Conference

Saturday, September 5, 2020 | 11:02 PM

Jeannette was flying high nine games into the 2019 season.

But consecutive losses to the WPIAL Class A finalists ended what Roy Hall hoped would be another title run.

Jeannette fell to eventual WPIAL champion Clairton in the Eastern Conference finale and then lost to Sto-Rox in the opening round of the WPIAL playoffs.

And while the Jayhawks graduated numerous key players — three-time all-conference running back Imani Sanders, all-conference wide receiver Jackson Pruitt, offensive linemen Justin Cramer and Zach Crutchman and wide receiver Bayley Molter — the cupboard isn’t bare.

“We lost some good players,” Hall said. “Hopefully, we’ll have some young guys step in and fill the void.”

Back are senior quarterback James Sanders, senior running back/quarterback Roberto Smith, junior wide receiver Brett Birch and senior wide receiver Toby Cline.

Sanders, Smith and freshman Brad Birch will be competing for the starting quarterback spot. Each brings something different to the field.

“Coach (Ryan) Reitz has three quarterbacks in the mix,” Hall said. “It’s still early, but they all are going to play at quarterback.”

Sanders completed 87 of 152 passes for 1,357 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

Smith completed 19 of 44 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Both are capable runners. Birch is untested but does possess a strong arm.

When Smith isn’t lining up behind center, he, Jaydin Canady and junior Taishaun Jamison will share the running back duties. That trio must replace the 1,058 yards Imani Sanders gained.

Juniors Brett Birch, Louis Calloway and Tyler Horn and senior Toby Cline will be the main targets at receiver. Birch had 23 catches and Cline 21.

“I like how offensive coordinator Ryan Reitz comes up with different plays and schemes,” Hall said. “We’ll be pretty balanced between the run and pass.

“Our biggest concern is finding some offensive linemen to replace Justin, Zach and Nathan Rugh. I believe we have them and we’ll be OK.”

Junior Justin Shank and senior Tavon Briston are expected to anchor the line.

“We have some capable linemen,” Hall said. “I feel we’ll be all right. I feel they’ll be able to fill their shoes.”

What really has Hall excited is the defense, where the Jayhawks return eight starters from a group that allowed 8.4 points per game.

Heading the list is sophomore Elijah Binakonsky, senior Kaelan Piscar, Smith and Cline at linebacker; James Sanders and Brett Birch at cornerback; and Shank and Briston up front. Sophomore Ryan Kimmel is another lineman expected to play a lot.

Jeannette will find out a lot about itself early. The Jayhawks were scheduled to scrimmage Sto-Rox and then face No. 1-ranked Clairton at home in the season opener.

“I don’t know if it’s a benefit to play them early,” Hall said. “I know we’ll get their best no matter what time of the season we play them.”

Hall said Greensburg Central Catholic and Springdale also will be strong contenders in the Eastern Conference.


Coach: Roy Hall

2019 record: 9-2, 5-1 in Class A Eastern Conference

All-time record: 756-318-48

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, Clairton*, 7

9.19, at Riverview*, 12

9.25, Imani Christian*, 7

10.2, at Leechburg*, 7

10.9, at Springdale*, 7

10.16, Bishop Canevin*, 7

10.23, at Greensburg C.C.*, 7

*Class A Eastern Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: James Sanders

87-152, 1,357 yards, 16 TDs

Rushing: Imani Sanders*

158-1,058 yards, 21 TDs

Receiving: Brett Birch

23-246 yards, 3 TDs


Fast facts

• The Jayhawks have won two PIAA titles (2008, ‘17) and nine WPIAL titles.

• Jeannette has made 41 appearances in the WPIAL playoffs. Its playoff record is 54-33-1. The tie was converted into a win against Monessen in 1972 because the Jayhawks had more total yards.

• Roy Hall’s record as a coach at Jeannette is 105-25. Hall played and graduated from Jeannette and also was an assistant coach.

• Terrelle Pryor and Demetrious Cox are the last two Jeannette players to play in the NFL. Defensive backs Jackson Pruitt (Youngstown State), Robert Kennedy (East Carolina) and Gio Vonne Sanders (St. Francis) are currently playing Division I football.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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