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Jeannette expects challenge from Rochester in WPIAL quarterfinals

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, 5:42 p.m.
Jeannette's Zack Berginc (22) is stopped by Monessen's Gage Hayden (11) after picking up a first down on a third-and-28 pass from Seth Howard late in the first quarter in a WPIAL Class A playoff game Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at McKee Stadium in Jeannette.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Jeannette's Zack Berginc (22) is stopped by Monessen's Gage Hayden (11) after picking up a first down on a third-and-28 pass from Seth Howard late in the first quarter in a WPIAL Class A playoff game Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at McKee Stadium in Jeannette.
Jeannette's Seth Howard (8) avoids Monessen's Thaddeus King (81) and scores on a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Jayhawks a 20-0 lead late in the first quarter in a WPIAL Class A playoff game Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at McKee Stadium in Jeannette.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Jeannette's Seth Howard (8) avoids Monessen's Thaddeus King (81) and scores on a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Jayhawks a 20-0 lead late in the first quarter in a WPIAL Class A playoff game Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at McKee Stadium in Jeannette.
Jeannette's Tre Cunningham (6) celebrates after sacking Monessen quarterback Isaiah Beltram (17) for a 3-yard loss during the first quarter in a WPIAL Class A playoff game Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at McKee Stadium in Jeannette.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Jeannette's Tre Cunningham (6) celebrates after sacking Monessen quarterback Isaiah Beltram (17) for a 3-yard loss during the first quarter in a WPIAL Class A playoff game Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at McKee Stadium in Jeannette.
Jeannette defensive back Jackson Pruitt (15) makes an interception in the end zone of a fourth-and-20 pass in front Monessen's Marquell Smith (13) during the second quarter in a WPIAL Class A playoff game Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at McKee Stadium in Jeannette.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Jeannette defensive back Jackson Pruitt (15) makes an interception in the end zone of a fourth-and-20 pass in front Monessen's Marquell Smith (13) during the second quarter in a WPIAL Class A playoff game Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, at McKee Stadium in Jeannette.

Jeannette is three wins away from tying New Castle's WPIAL football record of 734 wins.

New Castle is out of the playoffs, so the Jayhawks (10-1) can make a run at the clubhouse leader. Three more wins would mean not only a third straight trip to the WPIAL championship — Nov. 25 at Robert Morris — but also a 10th WPIAL title.

But slow your roll.

Rochester (8-2) looms in Friday night's WPIAL Class A quarterfinal game at Peters Township.

“We can't get too wrapped up in all of that yet,” Jeannette coach Roy Hall said. “If we keep winning, that will all take care of itself.”

Another dangling carrot: Jeannette would see Clairton (8-2) in the semifinals. Again, pump the brakes; Rochester awaits.

“We have to come out and set the tone,” Jayhawks junior running back Zack Berginc said. “We have to get focused at practice and be ready to play.”

And focus was a common word around the team this week as players dug their cleats into the mud at McKee Stadium and coaches dug into an attitude adjustment. Hall thinks the team needs to get sharper if it wants to make this playoff run last.

“We have not played a complete game in four or five weeks,” Hall said. “People come to the games and see it; we make mistakes and we don't play like we can. I am calling our guys to get focused and get back to playing Jeannette Jayhawk football. As a coach and lifelong resident of Jeannette, it's disheartening.

“You wonder, sometimes, if the coaches want it more than the players.”

Jeannette rolled past No. 16 Monessen, 49-0, in the first round but expects a much tougher test against the Rams, a team they held off 30-20 in last year's semifinals.

Twenty third-quarter points and four second-half sacks helped the Jayhawks seal the win, despite three turnovers.

Against Rochester last year, Robert Kennedy, Jeannette's do-it-all quarterback this season, took a fumble recovery back 55 yards for a score. Jeannette recovered an onside kick to set up another score to take a 30-6 lead.

But the Rams rallied, getting to within 30-20 with 7:45 left. Caleb Collins, a returning player, scored on a 4-yard run after the Rams gathered in a Jeannette fumble.

“We know if we don't execute we're going to lose,” Jeannette defensive end Anthony Johnson said. “We have to want it more.”

Rochester coach Gene Matsook thought his team handled Jeannette's speed, saying it did not affect his team.

“We outplayed them,” Matsook said. “We just had a bad three-minute stretch, and it killed us.”

Collins thinks the Rams can win with proper execution.

“We have to take care of our assignments and do the little things right and pound them every play,” Collins said. “We know the mistakes we made from last year. We have a lot of returning starters, and we're trying to get our mistakes taken care of.”

Hall hopes his defense will be able to slow the Rams ground game.

“They're still a very good team,” Hall said. “They have a good quarterback and a strong running back.”

Jeannette doesn't want the sinking feeling it was left with after the Clairton loss two weeks ago. The Bears won 40-6, improving to 6-0 against Jeannette since the teams became neighbors in Class A.

“When they made a big play, our faces dropped,” Berginc said. “We have to shake that kind of thing off, forget it and play our game.”

Jeannette is seeking its ninth semifinal appearance in 15 years. Both proud programs steeped in tradition, Jeannette and Rochester each have eight WPIAL titles.

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

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