RBs leading way into WPIAL semifinals
By Keith Barnes
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012, 1:20 a.m.
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
For the last four seasons, Clairton has easily disposed of every challenger that came its way.
Now the undefeated Bears stand on the brink of immortality and only 13th-seeded Neshannock (10-1) stands in their way.
With Clairton's 39-0 victory over Brentwood in the WPIAL Class A quarterfinals, the team won its 58th consecutive game and is within one victory of tying Central Bucks West (1997-2000) with a 59-game winning streak. Central Bucks West won three consecutive PIAA Class AAAA championships and saw its streak end in a 41-35 overtime loss to Erie Cathedral Prep in the 2000 state finals at Hersheypark Stadium.
If Clairton (11-0) breaks the record, it will start at 11 a.m. Nov. 23 at Heinz Field in the WPIAL Class A championship game. And there is little doubt that, if the Bears set the record and extend their nation's best winning streak, they will do so while riding talented senior Tyler Boyd.
Last week against Brentwood, Boyd accounted for 377 yards from scrimmage, including 288 rushing yards, and scored five touchdowns. His dominant performance, which drew comparisons to former Jeannette standout and current Oakland Raiders backup quarterback Terrelle Pryor, also helped him move higher among the statistically elite performers in WPIAL history.
Boyd came into last week as the 17th-leading rusher in WPIAL history, but leaped over Mapleton's Derek Bochna, Luke Hagy of Mt. Lebanon and Central Catholic alumnus Damion Jones-Moore to become the 14th player to rush for more than 5,000 yards. He has 5,037 and, with another stellar performance — he has gained more than 200 yards in each of his last two games — he could move into the top 10.
It's not that Boyd is just racking up yardage. His five touchdowns give him 106 in his career, and he is four away from tying the WPIAL record of 110 set from 2008-11 by Hopewell grad and Pitt freshman Rushel Shell.
Clairton is not the only team that has relied on a game-breaking running back to get into the WPIAL semifinals. West Mifflin (10-1) moved into the final four in Class AAA with a dominating performance from senior running back Jimmy Wheeler, who picked up 147 yards and three touchdowns to help the No. 7 Titans get past No. 2 Mars. Wheeler eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark for the season with his performance and now has 2,003 and 27 scores.
“My offensive line has been really good, opening holes for me all year long,” Wheeler said. “We showed what we can do against a very good defensive team. This whole team continues to give 100 percent every play.”
If West Mifflin is to make it into the finals for the first time since 2004, it will face a tough challenge from Central Valley (10-1), the Parkway Conference co-champion that lost to Montour in the semifinals last year after winning the WPIAL Class AAA championship in 2010.
West Mifflin isn't the only No. 7 seed left in the playoffs. Woodland Hills (9-2) played an outstanding defensive game in a 17-14 nail-biter against No. 2 Gateway in the Class AAAA playoffs to earn a rematch against Upper St. Clair (10-1), a team it lost to, 31-12, in its season opener Aug. 31.
It would be difficult for Woodland Hills to have a better defensive performance than it did against the Gators. The Wolverines had 10 tackles for loss, held Gateway to minus-39 yards rushing and made Arizona recruit Thomas Woodson's impressive 21-of-49 performance for 286 yards and two first-half touchdowns go for naught.
“It's hard to take away anybody,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “We didn't want Woodson to run the ball because he's dangerous ... and we had four or five receivers we had to watch, and they are a very diverse team.”
All of the No. 1 seeds in the four classifications are still alive, including Class AAA Thomas Jefferson (11-0), which will have a difficult task in the semifinals as it will play West Allegheny (10-1) which knocked off defending champion Montour (11-1).
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.
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