Memories of 2007 state title run still resonate with Jeannette faithful
Jeannette football history brims with celebratory moments and proud memories.
The very game itself, and Jeannette's contributions to it, are the most valuable mantle pieces in the Glass City.
It's big news when the Jayhawks don't win.
But among all of the trophies and plaques, the record 735 wins and the drop-down list of impact players, sits the centerpiece of them all: that glistening 2007 team.
It was a special group. Dominant and captivating. A spectacle even.
A decade has passed and it's still the benchmark for the program — and for this year's team, which also seeks state glory Thursday in Hershey.
"It's great making it back (to the state final) on the 10-year anniversary of the '07 team," said Jayhawks coach Roy Hall, who was an assistant that year. "That was such a great year for us. I mean, we had so many people coming out to see us play. You had people from Hempfield, Penn-Trafford, Greensburg, coming here (to McKee Stadium) to watch Terrelle and those guys instead of going to their own home games. The 50-50's were like $2,000. The WPIAL said we were their cash cow. So many memories."
But Jeannette didn't just sell bundles of tickets that season. It was money on the field, too.
It's total recall for Jeannette fans when that acclaimed group is mentioned, with all of its bells and whistles. A 16-0 record; 860 points, then a state record; Terrelle Pryor's reel of glide-away highlights that solidified his place as the country's top recruit.
There are plenty of other ties to this year's Jayhawks (14-1), who will take on Homer-Center (13-1) at 1 p.m. Thursday in the PIAA Class A championship at Hersheypark Stadium.
Offensive coordinator Ryan Reitz's father, Ray, was the head coach that season.
"The thing was, the second-team guys lettered; some of them played as much as our first-team guys," Ray Reitz said. "Our backups were as good as a lot of teams' starters. As the coach, I just didn't want to be the guy who lost with that group."
Veteran coaches Jeremy Binakonsky and Charlie Cook also were on that staff while another current assistant, Trevor Petrillo, was a backup sophomore lineman.
Petrillo has shared his experiences with his players.
"I remember how close we were," Petrillo said. "I remember how we came together. This year's team had to bond together after we got our heads beat in against Clairton. We have come a long way from that game."
The 2007 team also had Jordan Hall's breakaway runs, and Michael Matt's hits.
That machine-like group rushed for 92 touchdowns.
Jeannette averaged 53.8 points, scoring 60 or more a half-dozen times. It allowed just 9.5 points.
The Jayhawks did not bat an eye, all the way to Hershey when they added the exclamation point and rolled past Dunmore, 49-21, before 5,900 at Hersheypark Stadium.
They piled up 506 yards in the Class AA state final.
Ray Reitz said four starters missed the Aliquippa game in the WPIAL semifinals. Jeannette still won 70-48. It was a game that still gets buzz today.
Jeannette's starters, sans the linemen, rarely played full games. Some played a half of a game. So keeping interest up was a challenge Reitz and his coaches had to deal with.
"We had two guys hurt for the state final," Reitz said. "Michael Matt and Jerry Harris got up and talked to our guys. We had some great coaches, but I think it meant more coming from the (seniors). The fact that they couldn't play ... they said, don't worry about us ... it kind of fired them up and got their attention."
Reitz tears up when he talks about that closed-door talk — and Jeannette football, in general.
"I am so proud to be from Jeannette," he said. "It's a special thing."
Just before halftime of the state final, Pryor caught a touchdown pass from Jordan Hall, a fun trick play but also a foreboding glimpse into Pryor's future as an NFL receiver.
Both players went on to play at Ohio State.
To put Jeannette's run of success into perspective, consider that not-so-long-ago win was No. 642 for the program. It has won 93 more times since to overtake New Castle for the most wins in WPIAL history.
Known for having undersized linemen, that team's front blockers were no different. But they jelled early in the year and learned how to work together behind the scenes to let the offense stretch its legs.
Jason Marquis, Adam Lock and Chris Hall were among the up-front leaders.
"I just remember how determined we were after losing (in the state finals) the year before," Marquis said. "I still think about it today and it still bothers me, so imagine what it was like back then. The knock on Jeannette that year was that the team's crutch was the offensive line. So we took that as motivation. We went up against a lot of bigger lines. But as they say, the bigger they are, the harder they fall."
This year's team, albeit with a much different makeup but nearly as successful, wants to take its place among the school's other state titleist.
The longtime scoreboard at McKee Stadium is decked out with a "State Champions" banner across the bottom. It is so big, like an end zone on a football field, it looks as if the school never envisioned winning another state title.
"I'll guarantee you one thing," Roy Hall said. "We'll make room to put another sign there."
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.