Neshannock hoping to slow down Clairton's Boyd
Neshannock coach Fred Mozzocio is so desperate to slow down Clairton superstar Tyler Boyd in Friday's WPIAL Class A semifinal showdown at Chartiers-Houston, he has an offer for the standout all-purpose back.
“He doesn't need to show up for the game,” Mozzocio said. “My offensive coordinator, Ron Deporzio, has a new son named Max. Max needs a babysitter. I'm sure Tyler would be a good babysitter for Friday night.”
Boyd's versatility has become the stuff of legend in Clairton — he thrives while playing running back, quarterback, wideout and free safety while also returning punts — but he won't be adding babysitting to his resume Friday. Instead, he'll be looking to add more touchdowns.
In two dominant performances to begin the WPIAL postseason, Boyd has produced 11 touchdowns. He isn't showing any signs of slowing down.
“I've been able to coach against and see a lot of great high school football players,” Mozzocio said. “(Rochester's) Essex Law, (Aliquippa's) Chico Williams, (West Allegheny's) Mike Caputo and (Hopewell's) Rushel Shell were all great. And I'd put Boyd right up there with any of them. He is a truly spectacular football player, and he's going to get his yards on Friday. I've never seen anyone quite like him. I just hope we can stop him from hitting the big plays.”
For all of Mozzocio's lavish praise of Boyd, his Neshannock team doesn't figure to let top-seeded Clairton (11-0) smell any fear. The coach wouldn't have it any other way.
“When I became the head coach here, I said that we'd always respect our opponents,” he said. “But that doesn't mean you have to fear your opponent. And we fear no team. That includes Clairton. We just won our first-ever playoff game in school history. We're hungry for more. Clairton has to stop us.”
If ever there was a team worth fearing, Clairton would be the WPIAL's leading contender. The Bears have won 58 straight games, leaving them just one shy of the state record.
Head coach Tom Nola's team hasn't lost since Week 1 in 2009 and is playing its best football of the season, fresh off shutouts in three of its past four games.
Clairton, though, has plenty of respect for 13th-seeded Neshannock (10-1).
“Look at the points that team puts up,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “They have a very, very explosive offense.”
Neshannock doesn't have a player of Boyd's caliber but does boast star power. Quarterback Ernie Burkes has thrown for almost 1,500 yards and rushed for almost 800 more.
Nola is well aware of Burkes' ability and the fact that Neshannock has exceeded 40 points in seven of its 11 games.
“This is the best offense we've played all season,” Nola said, “and the quarterback is their best player.”
But like so many of Clairton's games, the outcome figures to be decided largely on the performance of one player.
Boyd has made this postseason his personal showcase.
“The scary thing is that Clairton has other great players,” Mozzocio said. “But Boyd is the guy, and we've got to do everything in our power to not let him break a bunch of big plays.”
Boyd already has rushed for 1,850 yards this season and is averaging an astounding 14.3 yards per carry.
Nola warns that a team could eventually slow down Boyd and, when that happens, quarterback Armani Ford will need to take control of the offense.
But Nola also routinely says he has never seen a player of Boyd's kind.
“He's just different,” Nola said. “We didn't play well last week against Brentwood. But he just did everything for us.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.