Clairton cruises, advances to 5th straight PIAA title game
Port Allegany senior Matt Bodamer is statistically the best quarterback in state history, but he took a back seat to Clairton senior Armani Ford in a PIAA Class A semifinal Friday at Deer Lakes.
Ford completed 8 of 12 passes for 192 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown to Terrish Webb, to lead Clairton to a 44-12 victory over Port Allegany (13-1) and earn its fifth consecutive trip to the PIAA Class A championship game in Hershey. The Bears (15-0) will take on District 2 champion Dunmore at 1 p.m. Friday at Hersheypark Stadium.
It was the 1,000th game in Clairton history. The Bears have an all-time record of 612-347-41.
“The senior class is special because they've been through this four years in a row,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “They lost their very first game, and they've won 62 (in a row) after that first loss. They're very respectful. … This is a good senior class, the best we ever had.”
Ford is the fourth quarterback to lead Clairton to a state title game, joining Troy Webb, Desimon Green and Capri Thompson. But after the team's running game with senior Tyler Boyd was shut down in the first quarter, Ford provided a spark with pinpoint passes that opened up the offense.
“The line just stepped up and gave me time to do what I had to do,” Ford said. “When we pass, teams have to take players out of the box, and it opens up things for Tyler. Everybody thinks all we do is pound, pound, pound, but then we start passing and we're more of a threat.”
It wasn't supposed to be Ford standing in the spotlight under center. Bodamer, the 2012 Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year, finished his career with a state-record 10,947 passing yards. He set the single-season passing mark when he completed 12 of 24 for 192 yards to finish the year with 3,950 yards.
He also hit Nick Conway with a 10-yard touchdown pass with 47.9 seconds left to tie South Fayette's Christian Brumbaugh for the single-season state record for touchdown passes (52). But by the time he set the record, Clairton already had the game in hand.
“I was competing against him, quarterback to quarterback and head to head,” Ford said. “But we both worked hard and did what we had to do to lead our teams to victory.”
For Ford, it helped having a better supporting cast.
Terrish Webb finished with five catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns — he caught a 2-yard scoring pass from Boyd in the first half — while Boyd carried 16 times for 92 yards and two scores despite not playing on offense throughout much of the second half.
Boyd, who moved into fifth place on the WPIAL's all-time rushing list with 5,638 yards and extended his WPIAL record with his 116th touchdown, was hit high on the right shin and stayed out offensively for precautionary reasons, but he played at safety in the latter part of the game.
“I just got this knot on my knee,” Boyd said. “I just didn't want to stay in there and push it and stay in there and hurt it some more. I knew that I had a whole team in here that was going to back me up if I sat out.”
Without Boyd, Clairton's other backs picked it up. The Bears scored on all four of their second-half possessions, including rushing touchdowns by Brandon Murphy and Vincent Moody.
Port Allegany may have surprised Clairton in early, as its defense stoned Boyd at every turn. The Gators limited the vaunted Bears offense to only 35 yards in the opening period, but the Bears also held down Bodamer and his spread offense.
Clairton needed a spark and got it in the second quarter when a Boyd touchdown catch was called back after officials ruled a lineman illegally touched the ball. The Bears rebounded when, with Boyd sidelined and the offense facing third-and-20, Ford hit Webb for 43 yards. That set up a 16-yard Boyd touchdown that gave the Bears an 8-0 lead with 5:50 left in the first half.
“We did start out slow, and that's happened a few times this year, but we've got good enough players,” Nola said. “Even when Tyler wasn't in there, we scored three touchdowns without him. We've got a real good team overall, and it's not just Tyler. We expect him to do his usual thing every week, and he started out slow, but he picked it up.”
Bodamer answered, hitting Conway on a middle screen that went for 59 yards to give Port Allegany a first down at the Clairton 6. On the play, Bodamer set the state single-season passing mark, eclipsing the previous mark of 3,824 set by Brockway's Derek Buganza in 2009.
Trent Neal scored on the next play to get the Gators to within two, but Port Allegany failed on its two-point conversion attempt.
Clairton responded in typical Bears fashion. Ford hit Robert Boatright with a pair of passes and Boyd capped the 52-yard drive with a 2-yard pass to Webb. His second two-point conversion gave the Bears a 16-6 lead at the intermission.
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.