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Clairton football team back in familiar position

| Monday, Nov. 19, 2012, 2:01 a.m.
Woodland Hills RB Dequan White runs the ball against Upper St. Clair in the WPIAL AAAA semifinal playoff game at Baldwin Stadium on Friday November 16, 2012. Woodland Hills wins the game, 42-20. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Ronald Vezzani Jr.| Tribune Review Clairton's Santeaun Simms (2) scores crosses the goal line on late in the second quarter against Neshannock during the WPIAL Class A semi-final game Friday, November 17, 2012 at Chartiers-Huston High School.

Most WPIAL teams hope for an opportunity to play at Heinz Field on Black Friday.

A scant few expect it.

Then there is Clairton, which pretty much put its annual visit to the North Side on its schedule when it was released.

“We are real excited about the chance we have,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “To go back to Heinz Field again is great. I know it's the Steelers' home field, but we've been there so often, it almost feels like our home field too.”

He's not exaggerating.

This will be Clairton's seventh appearance in the WPIAL Class A championship game at Heinz Field since the district shifted the venue from Three Rivers Stadium in 2001. In their previous six appearances, the Bears are 5-1 and their five-game winning streak is the best by any visiting team since the stadium opened.

This time, however, Clairton (12-0) will have a lot more riding on the game than just a title. With a victory over second-seeded Sto-Rox (12-0) at 11 a.m. the Bears will extend their nation's-best winning streak to a state-record 60 games, breaking a tie with Central Bucks West (1997-2000) and will also win their fifth consecutive outright WPIAL championship to tie Braddock (1955-59) for the all-time mark.

“We want to go there and show everyone how great of a team we have,” Clairton quarterback Armani Ford said. “We can't wait to get there.”

Clairton defeated Sto-Rox, 42-6, in the 2011 final at Heinz Field.

Woodland Hills (10-2) has also been a regular participant in the WPIAL finals and has won three championships (2001-02 and '09) since the move from Three Rivers Stadium. But this might be one of the most unexpected Wolverines teams to make it to the finals after they came from the No. 7 seed in Class AAAA to defeat No. 2 Gateway, 17-14, and avenge a season-opening loss to No. 3 Upper St. Clair with a 42-20 victory over the Panthers in the semifinals.

“We tried to do a couple of different things,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “We had a lot of kids play well. (Quarterback) Cody (McClelland) did a nice job, Khalil Harper, Tom Greene and we had a sophomore in there, (Art) Thompkins, who scored a TD. He was in there for Miles Sanders (didn't dress), and (Jawan) Turner had a great game, defensively.”

Woodland Hills will get a shot at its sixth WPIAL title if it can upset top-seeded North Allegheny (12-0) in a rematch of the 2010 title game won by the Tigers, 21-14. The Wolverines won the only other championship game matchup between the two, 22-15, in the 1996 title game at Three Rivers Stadium.

There will be another No. 7 seed in the Class AAA final as West Mifflin (11-1) will attempt to win its first title since the West Mifflin North/South merger. Like Woodland Hills, the Titans upset the No. 2 (Mars) and No. 3 (Central Valley) seeds to make it into the finals, where they will play No. 4 West Allegheny (11-1) at 8 p.m.

A different Parkway Conference team has won each of the last three Class AAA titles, West Allegheny (2009), Central Valley (2010) and Montour in 2011.

“It is great feeling for our kids and coaching staff,” West Mifflin coach Ray Braszo said. “They are probably one team I haven't seen all year.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.

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