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PIAA football notebook: Jeannette defense to be tested in state final

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, 1:00 p.m.
Jeannette's Justin Cramer holds a Hershey's chocolate bar as he celebrates with teammates after after defeating Farrell in their PIAA Class A state semifinal Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, at Seneca Valley High School.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Jeannette's Justin Cramer holds a Hershey's chocolate bar as he celebrates with teammates after after defeating Farrell in their PIAA Class A state semifinal Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, at Seneca Valley High School.
Ligonier Valley's Jackson Daugherty (12) is dragged down by the Homer-Center defense after a long gain in the third quarter on Friday Oct. 06, 2017 at Homer-Center.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Ligonier Valley's Jackson Daugherty (12) is dragged down by the Homer-Center defense after a long gain in the third quarter on Friday Oct. 06, 2017 at Homer-Center.
Homer-Center's Mike McCracken (35) runs the ball against Ligonier Valley in the fourth quarter on Friday Oct. 06, 2017 at Homer-Central.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Homer-Center's Mike McCracken (35) runs the ball against Ligonier Valley in the fourth quarter on Friday Oct. 06, 2017 at Homer-Central.
Homer-Center's Jesse Lee (34) reacts to a fumble by Homer-Center's Ben Schmidt (3) in the first quarter on Friday Oct. 06, 2017 at Homer-Center.
Christian Tyler Randolph | Tribune-Review
Homer-Center's Jesse Lee (34) reacts to a fumble by Homer-Center's Ben Schmidt (3) in the first quarter on Friday Oct. 06, 2017 at Homer-Center.

Jeannette hopes to stuff the run, a staple to slowing down Homer-Center, but the Jayhawks also plan to bring the heat against Wildcats quarterback Ben Schmidt in Thursday's PIAA Class A championship in Hershey.

Schmidt is just a freshman.

Schmidt has completed 74 of 133 passes for 1,099 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.

He has shown poise in managing a run-first offense that likes to line up in the power-I and use two tight end sets. Size up front is what makes the offense work. Two linemen regulars weigh over 300 pounds: Jason Monko (6-3, 310) and Dominick Edwards (6-3, 311).

Running backs Jesse Lee and Mike McCracken each have rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

Lee, the fullback and a load to bring down at 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds, has 1,376 yards and 21 touchdowns. McCracken has 1,099 yards and 13 scores.

But the Wildcats don't have a receiver with more than 16 receptions.

"Defense will be key to this game," Jeannette junior linebacker Zack Berginc said. "We need to stop their running game and make them throw the ball."

Jeannette has 25 interceptions in 15 games, including 12 by Robert Kennedy.

Talking about practice

Jeannette had its final practice of the season at McKee Stadium on Monday, then held a workout at Hempfield on Tuesday to stay sharp playing on turf.

The team was scheduled to practice Wednesday at Milton Hershey High School, which also has turf. A local tie helped make that convenience happen. The athletic director there is Bob Guyer, who played college football at Clarion with Fran Tragesser, the brother of former Jeannette coach Art Tragesser.

Strange meeting you here

Jeannette's team bus pulled over at the Sideling Hill rest stop along the Turnpike Wednesday and bumped into another team doing the same thing: Homer-Center.

The Wildcats also stopped off on the road to Hershey.

LV knows H-C

Ligonier Valley knows all about Homer-Center. The teams played in Week 6 when both were undefeated. Class 2A Ligonier Valley won 35-6, forcing three fumbles and holding the Wildcats to 190 yards.

Playing with pain

Jeannette sophomore linebacker Justin Cramer was willing to risk wrestling season to help his teammates win a state football title. Cramer has a torn meniscus in his right knee but said he received clearance from Dr. James Bradley to play last week against Farrell, and in Thursday's PIAA final.

Cramer also is a talented wrestler but said he could miss a portion of the season because he will have surgery after football.

"I have battled through the adversity," Cramer said. "Even though it's only my sophomore year, I know there is a lot at stake for us. I don't want to miss this."

Light up night

Jeannette coach Roy Hall said he is responsible for outdoor decorating for Christmas as his Jeannette home.

"My wife does the inside stuff," he said. "Outside's mine."

But since Jeannette has made such a deep push into the postseason, the Hall house is lacking Christmas light — for now.

Jeannette hopes to put a star on top of its season before the coach, ahem, decks the Halls.

"That happened in 2007, too," Hall said. "Some things will just have to wait. It will get done, as soon as the season's over."

7-8-9?

Jeannette likes to say, "1-2-3, go Hawks," and "4-5-6, don't quit" when it breaks huddles.

Is there a 7-8-9 on the way? Especially if the team wins the state title?

"Maybe," Hall said. "Maybe 7-8-9, Jeannette is fine."

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

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