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Written by: Hal Wilson on Monday, March 23rd, 2020
The Jeannette Jayhawks have been a force in Pennsylvania scholastic football for many decades, from the 1920’s to the Terrell Pryor teams of the late 2000’s. A WPIAL AA title was shared in1932 and a championship was lost by a 10-0 team in 1936 through the vagaries of the Gardner point system. A 9-0 regular season in 1939 was climaxed by a 6-0 victory over unbeaten Ambridge and a AA championship..
A potentially great 1954 squad was derailed by neighboring rival Greensburg in the final 1954 game. Two years later, it all came together for the Jayhawks in what may have been the best Jeannette team ever. A 9-0 perfect regular season led to an epic playoff triumph over a tough Charleroi team who came to the AA title game at Latrobe equally perfect. The Mon Valley Cougars were paced by Pottios, a big, rough fullback and line backer, later a Notre Dame and NFL star.
Nearly 13,000 packed the stadium at Latrobe. The Jayhawks scored first with Frank DelGross getting to the end zone. However, Charleroi battled back with two touchdowns to lead 13-6 at the half. Jeannette’s star quarterback Dick Hoak then returned the second half kickoff 50 yards, reaching the Charleroi 36. The Jayhawks drove and Pete Garrick scored the TD that enabled Jeannette to tie the game. The two teams battled on. Late in the fourth quarter, Jeannette was forced to punt in Charleroi territory. Hoak then made a one-handed interception of a Cougar pass and the Jayhawks had one last chance to win the game.
Under center, Hoak noticed that Pottios, expecting a pass, had dropped off his normal position. Hoak dashed up the middle for seven yards and lateraled to Garrick who gained several more. The Jayhawks were now at the Charleroi eight with 13 seconds to go. Coach Markley Barnes decided to attempt a 25 yard field goal. With center Lou D’Emelio as the snapper and Jim Jacobelli as holder, Jim Burzio kicked the ball through and Jeannette had won a deserved championship, 16-13.
A veteran observer commented that Jeannette was “solid all the way across”. Junior halfback Garrick had run for 112 yards on 22 carries. Hoak had two interceptions.
The legendary Markley Barnes had come to Pitt from Wheeling, West Virginia, and played on three Panther teams, graduating in 1930. The equally legendary Pitt Coach Jock Sutherland was often consulted by high schools who asked for coaching recommendations. Sutherland was able to place many of his players in coaching positions – including his star pupil Markley Barnes.
Dick Hoak says today that Barnes was “ a no-nonsense disciplinarian. I had the greatest respect for him”. The l956 team ran from variations of the T-formation. At times, the offense resembled the single wing. This was Barnes’ 25th team at Jeannette. Health forced his retirement after the 1958 season
The difficult 1956 schedule included a feared Munhall team. At West Field in Munhall, the Jayhawks handled the Indians 21-0 for their 7th win. Highly-rated Wilkinsburg, slated to win the next AA title, came to McKee Stadium, only to experience a decisive 19-0 defeat. Inspired neighborhood rival Greensburg battled through the entire game before 11,000 chilled fans at the Lions’ Offutt Field. Hoak scored first for the Jayhawks. Savini’s run brought the score to 7-6, Jeannette. The Jayhawks scored again late and prevailed 14-6. Alan Stough scored the TD. Greensburg end Mitinger, later to play with Hoak at Penn State, had reached the Jayhawk two, but did not score. The Jayhawks had qualified for the AA title game.
The solid 1956 Jeannette lineup:
E 44 Wayne TUCCI 185 SR
T 43 Fred DELUZIO 175 JR
G 18 Dale TURNEY 145 SR
C 32 Lou D’EMILIO 145 JR
G 50 Jim BURZIO 195 SR
T 47 Bob LAVELLE 200 SR
E 38 Phil MCCLEERY 170 SR
Q 33 Dick HOAK 175 SR
H 17 Pete GARRICK 140 JR
H 28 John DOBRINICK 165 SR
F 25 Bill BURRELL 165 SR
15 Frank DELGROSS was an able ball carrier and sophomores 46 Buddy TORRIS and 49
Chuck EVANS bolstered the defense. Tucci, Torris and Evans were other standouts in the Charleroi game.
Hoak began the season as the placekicker, but after five misses after the five touchdowns scored against Crafton in the opener, Burzio became the kicker, foreshadowing the Charleroi game -winner. Deluzio handled the punting.
The Jayhawk championship record:
30 CRAFTON 0
25 PITTSBURGH SCHENLEY 0
13 TURTLE CREEK 0
12 CONNELLSVILLE 0
21 LATROBE 7
33 NORTH HUNTINGDON 7
21 MUNHALL 0
19 WILKINSBURG 0
14 GREENSBURG 6
WPIAL AA Championship
16 CHARLEROI 13
Quarterback Dick Hoak was the team leader as field general, rusher and occasional passer. He became a star halfback for the Penn State Nittany Lions, starring in a backfield with All-
American Richie Lucas. He had a stellar career as a halfback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, He gained nearly 4,000 yards rushing and almost 1,500 yards receiving and scored 33 touchdowns
and was named to a Pro Bowl. He then became a Steeler coach. He mentored the Steeler running backs for 20 years and was the only coach to work for both Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher. His total career with the Steelers included 10 years as a player and 35 years as a coach. He retired in 2007.
Many of the 1956 key players received Division One scholarships, including Lavelle and DeLuzio to West Virginia, Tucci to Purdue, Hoak and Torris to Penn State, and Evans to Pitt and later Clemson.
Jim Burzio was named 1956 first-team All State guard and Tucci received third-team honors at end.
In 1971, Jeannette won another WPIAL title in the now AA next-to-largest classification and went deep into the AAA playoffs in 1972 and 1973 with perfect record teams.
In 1981 and 1983, the Jayhawks won AA titles, among the next-to-smallest schools.
With the advent of All-America Quarterback Terrell Pryor and All-State halfback Jordan Hall, the Jayhawks rolled to WPIAL AA titles in 2006 and 2007 and, after a loss in the 2006 PIAA AA Final, romped to the AA State title in 2007. Pryor was considered the top QB prospect in the country when he enrolled at Ohio State. He is now in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. Hall became a star halfback for the Buckeyes.
Then in 2017, the Jayhawks returned to the state title game. Led by Robert Kennedy, Jenneatte claimed their second official state title with a 42-12 thrashing of Homer-Center.
In all, Jeannette has won nine WPIAL titles — 1932, 1939, 1956, 1970, 1981, 1983, 2006, 2007 and 2017.
A Jeannette team holds the distinction of visiting Latrobe in 1895 in the first professional football game.
Mike Getto was a star for Jeannette in the early 1920’s and became a consensus All-America tackle for Pitt in 1928, a teammate of Markley Barnes. He later played professionally and coached. While at Kansas in the late 40’s, he is credited by some with applying the Kansas Jayhawk mascot name to his high school’s athletic teams.
The famous bandleader and singer Vaughn Monroe was a 1929 graduate of Jeannette High School.
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