WPIAL finalists have chance to make history
Like the rivers that lead to the stadium sitting on the banks of the Ohio, a confluence has led Clairton's return to Heinz Field.
The Bears are back in the WPIAL Class A championship game for the fifth consecutive year amid a nation's-best 59-game winning streak.
With a victory over Sto-Rox (11-1) Friday, Clairton (12-0) will make history in two ways: The Bears can join Braddock (1954-59) as the only WPIAL schools to win five consecutive league titles, as well as break a tie with Central Bucks West (1997-2000) for the state's longest winning streak.
“It's brought a lot of positive attention to our little city,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “That's always welcomed. We're so proud of what the players have accomplished, and everyone in the community feels the same way.
“We tell them that all the time, that they're doing something special and historic that they'll remember for the rest of their lives.”
Clairton's record run will be the start of what promises to be a historic day at Heinz Field.
Not only can Clairton claim a first, but North Allegheny (12-0) can become the first to win three consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA championships since the classification was formed in 1984. It would also assure Tigers coach Art Walker of tying his father, Art Sr., by winning his fifth Quad-A crown.
Standing in their way is Woodland Hills (10-2) and George Novak, who can become the first coach to win six Quad-A titles and would join New Castle's Phil Bridenbaugh in winning seven — Novak led Steel Valley to the 1982 Class AAA title.
“Just playing at Heinz is special,” Novak said, “and that adds a lot more to the mystique of being at Heinz Field for the WPIAL.”
Aliquippa (12-0) can extend its record of WPIAL titles to 15 with a victory over Washington (12-0) in Class AA, which would give Quips coach Mike Zmijanac his fifth league title.
If West Allegheny (11-1) beats West Mifflin (11-1) in Class AAA, Bob Palko would win his sixth WPIAL title in as many tries and join Bridenbaugh, Braddock's Chuck Klausing, Novak and, possibly, Nola as the only coaches in league history to achieve that feat.
The parade of accolades isn't limited to teams and their coaches.
Washington junior Shai McKenzie needs 85 yards to break the WPIAL single-season rushing record of 2,740 yards, set by Hopewell's Rushel Shell in 2009. McKenzie was held to zero yards against Aliquippa in the quarterfinals last year.
Clairton senior Tyler Boyd also can break Shell's WPIAL career touchdown record with four against Sto-Rox. Boyd, who has 41 this season, scored three times in a 42-6 victory over the Vikings in the Class A final last year.
WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley sees the WPIAL finals at Heinz Field as the perfect place to have a record-setting day.
“We've always felt that it's a significant event, and the people that advanced to play there have accomplished one of their major goals,” O'Malley said. “Being there is an accomplishment in itself. That it is tied to the records, speaks volumes about the tradition of the schools and the capability of those directing the programs. The records that are on the line can be directly attributed to the people that lead their programs. I think they have to be given their due for what they've done.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7812.