Clairton football team edging closer to state-record streak for wins
Clairton has been building toward this moment for more than three years.
With a victory in their WPIAL Class A semifinal against Neshannock (10-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Chartiers-Houston, the Bears would win their 59th consecutive game and tie Central Bucks West for the longest winning streak in Pennsylvania football history.
“We kind of had the same routine through the whole thing because we didn't talk to the team about it,” said former Central Bucks West coach Michael Carey, a Pitt alumnus and former Panthers football player.
Like Clairton, Central Bucks West won consecutive Class AAAA state championships from 1997-99. But after the third, a 14-13 victory over Erie Cathedral Prep, Bucks coach and Mike Pettine Sr. stepped aside. Carey took over a team in the midst of a 45-game win streak.
“When I took the head job, and following a legend that I had worked for as an assistant, I knew it was going to be a giant task. But we went through the preseason and though I'd been there, I never felt the pressure like I did when I was head coach,” Carey said.
“That became a 1,000-pound gorilla because you don't want to be the coach or the team who was there when the streak ended.”
Central Bucks West went into the 2000 season chasing both its own shadow and that of Braddock. The Bucks had set the state record with a 53-game winning streak that began with the start of the 1984 season that tied Braddock's WPIAL-record unbeaten streak from the 1950s.
On Oct. 20, 2000, Central Bucks West defeated Harry S. Truman, 49-0, to tie the record, then shut out Pennsbury, 37-0, the following week to set the mark of 54.
“After we broke the record, the team started playing tight,” Carey said. “We had just come off three straight titles, and the streak was just becoming a monster. The media was crazy and each game was adding to it, and getting to 54 wins was a lot bigger thing than I thought when I took the job.”
He made it to 59, guiding the team to the PIAA Class AAAA championship game and a rematch with Cathedral Prep. The Bucks were finally stopped as Jawan Walker scored from 4 yards out to give the Ramblers a 41-35 overtime victory at Hersheypark Stadium.
“Our approach wasn't necessarily worrying about the streak because we were trying to get even with them for the year before. Because, even though it was a great game, we still ended up losing,” Cathedral Prep coach Mike Mischler said. “That streak was brought up a lot of the time by a lot of people. But I think when you look back on it that you were the team that stopped a 59-game streak, it was a nice feather in our cap as well as winning the state title, and everything else that came with that.”
Because there is a chance that Clairton (11-0) will tie the streak this week and could break it Nov. 23 at Heinz Field in the WPIAL Class A championship game, it does put what Central Bucks West accomplished into perspective.
“I said it many times that it was a streak that would never be broken, and my hat's off to Clairton, but I will say this: winning 59 straight games and three state titles in Quad A is a lot different than winning it in Single-A. There's no doubt in my mind,” Carey said.
“Obviously they have a great team to get to this point and all records are meant to be broken, and if they can pull it off, maybe that's a record that will never be broken.”
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.