Jeannette, Washington looking forward to their chance to shine
You don't have to remind the players from Washington or Jeannette the importance of Thursday's game.
Not only is first place in the WPIAL Class AA Interstate Conference on the line between the 4-0 teams, but these two historic programs, which have won WPIAL and PIAA titles, want to showcase their talent before a regional television audience on Root Sports as part of the McDonald's High School Football game of the week presented by Trib Total Media.
It's a chance to shine.
“It's a crazy week,” Washington coach Mike Bosnic said about the short week of preparation for the game being held at Jeannette's McKee Stadium. “There are a lot of things going on this week, especially when you play Jeannette.
“There is a lot of excitement. The players want to perform well on TV. It hasn't been hard to keep them focused.”
Bosnic would feel a lot better if star running back Shai McKenzie was playing.
McKenzie had season-ending knee surgery Sept. 20 after tearing his ACL at Charleroi on Sept. 13. McKenzie had scored 11 touchdowns in three games.
Without McKenzie, No. 5 Washington still stepped up and soundly defeated Yough, 35-13, last week.
“You can never replace a player like Shai,” Bosnic said. “I was happy with the way we responded. A lot of players were asked to step up and they did.”
Bosnic said the trio of Jordan West, Malik Wells and Chase Caldwell alternated at running back, and quarterback Jonathan Spina has done a nice job handling the offense. Fullback Art Long and tight end Nate Swart also drew praise from the coach.
But what impresses Jeannette coach Roy Hall the most about Washington is its offensive line.
He knows his team is able to match up skill wise, but the game could be decided in the trenches.
Hall said senior tackle Matt Howard, who missed the second half of the Yough game on Sept. 13 and last week's game against Brownsville, will play along with running back Quentin Rickard.
“Don't ever underestimate Washington,” Hall said. “They have a rich tradition and they have a good team. When your ace player goes down, it brings a team together.
“They have a good offensive line with nice size, and their quarterback threw more last week than he has all season.”
Spina completed 10 of 15 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown last week against Yough. Washington (4-0, 4-0) is a typically run-heavy team.
No. 8-ranked Jeannette (4-0, 4-0) is unbeaten in four games, but Hall knows his team has been far from perfect. Too many times they've made defensive mistakes that have resulted in big plays.
“I'll be the first one to tell you, yes we're happy to be 4-0, but am I satisfied, absolutely not,” Hall said. “If we play anyway like we did Friday, we're not going to be very happy on Thursday.
“All the mistakes are fixable. We have to make better tackles. Maybe we were looking ahead, but have to be better. We've had a real good week of practice, but defense is where we have to fix things.”
Jeannette hasn't had a problem scoring points. The Jayhawks average 46.3 points per game, but they are allowing 22.5.
Senior Damone Morton, who transferred to Jeannette from Washington before his sophomore year, has scored seven touchdowns. He returned a punt for a score last week.
Quarterback Julian Batts has been efficient throwing the ball, completing 25 of 35 passes for 365 yards.
Terrell Canady, who also returned a punt for a score, has scored four times, while Batts, Zack Altieri and Michael Edwards have each scored three times.
Both coaches expect a close game, similar to the one in 2012 when Washington blocked a punt in the final seconds. The ball bounced to McKenzie, who raced 40 yards for a score.
It was the game Hall remembered most from the 2012 season.
“We had it won and it got away,” Hall said. “I believe we'll be focused because it's Washington. The last two times we played them, we let the games get away from us. It's hard to believe.
“We have to play four quarters. Those games showed us. The game just isn't two or three quarters. You have to play it to the end.”
Jeannette's special teams are one of the big worries for Bosnic. He said the Jayhawks have a lot of dangerous players who have big-play potential.
“We know what to expect from Jeannette,” Bosnic said. “They have kids who can run and who are physical. Both teams have a lot of special athletes.”