Clairton seeks to become 1st WPIAL football team with 4 PIAA titles
For the past few years, Clairton coach Tom Nola has separated the season into three parts. So far, the Bears are unscathed through sections one and two as they finished undefeated in the regular season for the third consecutive season and won their record fifth straight WPIAL Class A title.
Clairton (13-0), which has won a state-record 60 consecutive games, will turn its attention to the third and final segment. This week the team will begin its quest to become the first WPIAL team to win four state championships as they prepare for District 5 champion Berlin-Brothersvalley (11-1) at Golden Eagle Stadium in Somerset in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals.
Central Catholic (Class AAAA in 1988, 2004 and '07), Rochester (Class A in 1998, 2000-01) and Thomas Jefferson (Class AAA in 2004, 07-08) are the only other schools to win three state championships. But none of them was able to do what Clairton has as it will attempt to play in its fifth consecutive state final and win four in a row.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in preparing to play Clairton is to put all that aside and concentrate on the game.
“Yeah, it's tough because even where we're at in the state, that's what everybody talks about and we told our kids that they have absolutely nothing to lose in this game,” Berlin-Brothersvalley coach Doug Paul said. “Besides themselves, there's probably nobody in the whole state of Pennsylvania that thinks we have a chance, and we're definitely going into this with a ‘David versus Goliath' mentality and just play ball.”
Berlin-Brothersvalley runs a similar offense to Clairton's: It utilizes multiple formations and has a wildcat package to feature leading rusher Drew Glotfelty. For the Mountaineers to pull off the upset and become the first District 5 team to get past a WPIAL opponent, however, they will need to control the ball and not make any mistakes.
And even that might not be enough.
For most of the season Clairton has been at its best when it uses a wildcat running attack featuring running back Tyler Boyd, who eclipsed 2,000 yards for the season with 144 yards and a touchdown against Sto-Rox in the WPIAL championship game and has moved into ninth place on the WPIAL's all-time rushing list with 5,302 yards. But in the past two weeks the Bears have diversified their attack and complemented Boyd with eight touchdowns through the air — one on an option pass from Boyd to Santeaun Sims and the other seven from the right arm of quarterback Armani Ford.
“This whole year, I've been saying that I hope these boys don't think they're going to stop me because, if they do stop me, they're not going to stop all of us,” Boyd said. “We're loaded with athletes and they're going to have to stop all of us as one, so it's going to be tough for them.”
Finding a way to slow Boyd down and make Clairton one-dimensional might have been a plan of attack for some teams. Now that the Bears have shown the ability to throw down the field to game-breakers Titus Howard and Terrish Webb, coming up with a defensive game plan has gone from nightmarish to virtually impossible.
“We can't simulate their speed. The fact that we're similar is nice, but there's no way we can line up and have players like Tyler Boyd and Titus Howard because we don't have that kind of speed across the board like they have.” Paul said. “We can't get a look in practice because of the speed of the game that they play at.”
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.