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Gorman: Why Clairton couldn't beat Quips, Dukes

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Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 10:50 p.m.

The congratulations continued all week for the Clairton Bears, owners of the longest winning streak in state history.

They came from all over Western Pennsylvania, even Aliquippa and Duquesne. That might come as a surprise, considering that some in those cities believe Clairton's 60 consecutive victories should have an asterisk.

Pat Monroe, the former Duquesne football coach now at South Allegheny, counts Clairton coach Tom Nola as a close friend but constantly hears talk that the Bears' streak didn't start until after Duquesne High closed in 2007.

“That's one of those last pride things with Duquesne,” Monroe said. “You've got to give Clairton all their props, with everybody they played, just to keep it together. It's time to relish what Clairton did.

“But anybody who wore red and white will tell you, not one of those 60 wins was against Duquesne.”

That bothers Nola, whose Bears haven't lost since the 2009 season opener against Laurel. He wishes Clairton could have had Duquesne as an annual opponent, if only so he wouldn't have to hear about not playing the Dukes during the streak.

The Clairton-Duquesne rivalry was one of the WPIAL's best, a conference contest that brought out the best in both sides, no matter their records.

“We miss that rivalry, we really do,” Nola said. “People bring it up a lot, but it is what it is. We played whoever was on the schedule. You can't change that.”

The Bears almost put their streak at risk by scheduling another WPIAL powerhouse. At the Curbstone Coaches banquet last spring, Mike Zmijanac and Nola agreed to have Aliquippa play Clairton in the season opener this year.

It would have matched the two schools with Class A enrollments, although Aliquippa chooses to play up in AA. Those plans were scuttled when the WPIAL realignment put Clairton in a 10-team Black Hills Conference, giving the Bears no room for a crossover game.

“It would have been not only interesting, but they would have had a lot of people there,” said Zmijanac, an admirer of Clairton's accomplishment.

“It's fantastic, at any level. I'm really happy for them. We understand their plight, exactly how they feel. I want them to win 80 in a row. I wouldn't dare ever get into that conversation of what-ifs. To do what they've done is phenomenal.”

Consider that Clairton defeated Washington by scores of 42-12 last year and 41-0 in 2010. The Bears wonder how they would have fared against the Quips, who beat Wash High, 34-8, in the WPIAL Class AA final last week.

“Would we have liked to have done it? Yes, for sure, because, right now, our guys have so much confidence,” Nola said. “They really feel like they can play with anybody. And all through this streak, we've had some really good players that could match up to anybody.”

It's playing what-if, but you can't blame Clairton for believing that there is only one reason the Bears couldn't have beaten Aliquippa or Duquesne: They never got the chance.

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