GCC, Jeannette want to ensure playoff berths in rivalry game
There's a chance the Washington football team could lose its appeal to the PIAA Thursday and miss the playoffs, enabling Greensburg Central Catholic and Jeannette to get in.
Forgive running back Tyler Balla if he's not banking on that.
Taking things for granted is not something you do when you start 0-3, lose your starting quarterback and best player in Week 2 and require a four-game winning streak midseason to even resemble a playoff club.
“The whole season, we've been facing adversity,” Balla said. “We're used to it.”
Greensburg Central Catholic will host rival Jeannette at 7 p.m. Friday, and as usual emotions will run high. Pending the outcome of Wash High's appeal, it may also be for a playoff berth.
If the Prexies get back the five wins they lost for using an ineligible player and GCC wins, the Centurions (4-4, 4-3) are in, either as the No. 3 or No. 4. Jeannette (4-4, 4-3) would need a Yough loss to Southmoreland at home to make it as the No. 4 seed.
If Jeannette wins, the Jayhawks would be the No. 3 seed, and GCC would be out, the result of a 38-31 Yough win over the Centurions in Week 8.
“Not only is it a huge rivalry to begin with, there's now that much more,” Centurions coach Dan Mahoney said.
The teams have split the past 10 meetings, with the home team going 5-3 — two were played at Hempfield — but the evenness stops there; GCC and Jeannette have been on completely opposite trajectories this season.
Since losing to Washington, Mt. Pleasant and Kittanning to open the season, losing Kellar to a broken collarbone against the Vikings, GCC rattled off wins over Waynesburg, Brownsville, Southmoreland and Charleroi to get back in the hunt.
Last week's loss at Yough came on a last-second Hail Mary and served as a reminder that the Centurions aren't quite there yet — at least not mathematically.
Balla has done it all in Kellar's absence. He's rushed for 1,160 yards and 11 touchdowns on 170 carries, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt. He's also GCC's leading receiver with 23 catches for 459 yards and three touchdowns.
“We put ourselves in this position, which we talk about,” Mahoney said. “If we win Friday, we'll be OK. I think because of that game Friday (against Yough), our kids feel they have a determination to prove themselves.”
Sophomore Tommy Pellis has taken over for Kellar, an all-conference passer who threw for 1,378 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2012. Pellis (5-11, 145) has completed 51 of 98 attempts (52 percent) for 866 yards and six touchdowns. Eddie Kilkeary has 23 catches for 392 yards and three scores.
Jeannette's season has hit the skids. The Jayhawks started 4-0 but have since lost four straight, giving up 48, 35, 28 and 26 points to Washington, Mt. Pleasant, Shady Side Academy and Waynesburg.
“Ain't too often in Jeannette you lose four consecutive games,” Jayhawks coach Roy Hall said. “It's tough, believe me. I pretty much stay home, watch film and don't go nowhere.”
Injuries have been a constant for Jeannette, which was without five starters during last week's 26-14 home loss to Waynesburg: running back Terell Canady; quarterback Julian Batts; running back Zack Altieri; tight end Michael Wise; and lineman John Ryan.
Canady, who had a bruised ankle, should be back. That same fate is likely for Batts (sprained ankle) and Altieri (elbow).
What's less clear is how Jeannette will stop the run. The Jayhawks allowed 259 yards to Mt. Pleasant's Tyler Mellors and 345 to Wash High's deep stable of backs.
No doubt GCC left tackle Jack Kilkeary, left guard Brian Pevarnik, center Jake Wallace, right guard Tommy Slavic and right tackle Nick Ireland will try to own the line of scrimmage and give Balla plenty of room to run.
“We have to play sound defense,” Hall said. “We're not big at all. Every team that we've played, we've been out-manned size-wise. We know what they're going to do; they play smash-mouth football.”
Altieri is Jeannette's leading receiver with 14 catches for 273 yards and three touchdowns. Damone Morton has a team-high 325 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Batts has completed 61 of 111 passes for 872 yards and seven touchdowns. Lineman Matt Howard anchors the defense with 33 tackles, three sacks and three forced fumbles.
Jeannette is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the same year it lost to GCC, 49-18.
“Whenever it comes to Jeannette and GCC, there's always something on the line,” Hall said. “This year it's the playoffs. Being an alum and having been involved with Jeannette football for 29 years, I know I don't want it to be on there that we didn't make the playoffs.”