Clairton wants to erase one of the few bad football memories
Every player who put on a uniform in any of Clairton's first 999 games has a memory of either a thrilling victory or a loss that just gnaws at them.
Wayne Wade has seen his share of the wins. As a senior, he quarterbacked the Bears to the 1989 WPIAL Class A title that ended a 35-year championship drought and, as defensive coordinator, he's been a member of the staff throughout its current run of five consecutive WPIAL Class A and four straight state finals appearances.
There is, however, that one loss that bothers him; a 15-14 loss to District 9 champion Keystone in the 1989 PIAA Class A semifinals at Sharon.
“Getting off the bus and walking to the field, kids were falling,” Wade said. “The weather was terrible, and I think, after that year, they started playing all the state games on turf because the field was really a factor. In my eyes, we were three or four touchdowns better than that team.”
To this day, no District 9 team in any classification has ever won a state football championship and only one, Smethport in Class A in 1992, has ever even played in the finals. But Wade and Clairton (14-0) finally have an opportunity to put that particular nightmare behind them.
No, the Bears won't be playing Keystone, but they will take on undefeated District 9 champion Port Allegany (13-0) in the PIAA Class A semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday in the 1,000th game in school history for the opportunity to win their 62nd consecutive game and play in the state championship game at 1 p.m. Dec. 14 at Hersheypark Stadium. Clairton has played in the state semifinals five times since that loss to Keystone, but the team had never faced a District 9 school.
Though this will be the 1,000th game in school history — Clairton is 611-347-41 all-time — it might just turn out to be a footnote in a season of benchmarks for the storied program.
• The Bears won the 600th game in school history in Week 3 against California.
• They passed Braddock's 56-game skein for the longest unbeaten streak in WPIAL history with their 57th consecutive victory in a 58-7 win over Frazier in the opening round of the District 7 playoffs.
• Clairton won the school's 10th WPIAL title.
• Clairton joined Braddock as the only teams to win five consecutive outright WPIAL titles.
• Running back Tyler Boyd broke Rushel Shell's year-old WPIAL record of 110 career touchdowns — he's at 114 — and will become the first person to represent the school at the U.S. Army All-America Bowl in San Antonio on Jan. 5.
“We just take it one game at a time, and I don't think we realize what we're accomplishing right now because we're in it,” Wade said. “Port Allegany is in front of us, and that's who we're looking to go out and compete against.”
This will be a challenge for Clairton because of another person in the game who has established a few benchmarks of his own as no District 9 school, or any other for that matter, has had a quarterback as proficient as Port Allegany senior Matt Bodamer. The 2012 Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year has completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 3,758 yards and 51 touchdowns and is just 67 yards and two touchdowns away from breaking the single season state records in both categories.
In addition, he already has broken Derek Buganza of Brockway's career passing record by 1,002 yards with 10,755 and holds the state record with 136 career passing touchdowns.
Coming up with a defensive scheme to slow down Bodamer and his favorite target, receiver Tyce Miller, while putting the clamps on the other three pass-catchers in the four-wide spread set would have been easy for Wade, the team's defensive coordinator, before last week. All he would have had to do was to use his Division I defensive backs, Boyd, Terrish Webb and Titus Howard to lock them up and tell the defensive line to pin its ears back.
Things got a little more complicated, however, when Howard, a Pitt recruit, dislocated his elbow in the quarterfinals against Berlin Brothersvalley and was not medically cleared to play.
“We can go a few ways, and probably the most obvious is to move Tyler around because of his skill level, and we don't lose anything (at corner), but then you lose something at free safety,” Wade said. “We have some kids that have stepped up for us in situations, and I think we have enough talent at the skill positions to step in and get the job done this week.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161, Ext. 1977.