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Clairton seniors leave indelible mark

| Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, 11:36 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Clairton seniors hoist the championship trophy after defeating Dunmore in the PIAA Class A state final Friday Dec. 14, 2012 in Hershey. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

HERSHEY — In the third quarter of Clairton's 20-0 victory against Dunmore in the PIAA Class A championship, Clairton senior Tyler Boyd came to the sideline and yanked off his game jersey and shoulder pads.

He quickly donned a harness, put his pads back on and returned to his free safety spot on the Bears' defense as if nothing was wrong.

“It's real bruised up,” Boyd said of his shoulder. “I think it's strained right now, so I'm going to let it cool for a little bit.”

It's not surprising. He and the rest of the seniors have had tremendous expectations on their shoulders since they put on their Clairton uniforms.

“We've got some good ones. Not only good athletes but really good kids, too,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “This is maybe the best senior class that we've had.”

In 2009, the seniors' freshman year, the Bears opened the season ranked No. 1 in the state, having lost to Steelton-Highspire in the PIAA Class A championship game the previous season. They lost their season opener, 15-8, in a penalty-filled upset at Laurel.

No one could have expected that would be the only game this group would lose, but that loss became a rallying point for Clairton, one that propelled the Bears to their first PIAA Class A title, a 15-3 victory over Bishop McCort.

A year later, thanks to a breakout performance by Boyd against Taylor-Riverside, the Bears rallied from a 24-0 second-quarter deficit to win, 36-30, in the state finals. In the process, Clairton became the fourth WPIAL team to win consecutive state titles, joining Farrell (1995-96) in Class A, Rochester (2000-01) in Class A and Thomas Jefferson (2007-08) in Class AAA.

In 2011, Clairton entered the season riding a 31-game winning streak, and pressure built throughout the season as the school became synonymous with the great Braddock teams of the 1950s. In typical Bears fashion, they broke Braddock's 46-game winning streak in the state championship game with a 35-19 win over another dynasty, Southern Columbia.

This season “The Streak” became a coalescing force for the team and community. Clairton came into the season with the longest winning streak in the country, closed in on the state record of 59 set by Central Bucks West from 1997-2000 and knew that it would set the record with a win in the WPIAL Class A championship game at Heinz Field.

After a near early-season hiccup in a 22-20 win against Chartiers-Houston, Clairton rolled through the season. The Bears only trailed once after the first quarter of any game — by 7-6 in what turned out to be a 58-21 victory over Sto-Rox in the WPIAL championship game — and its lowest margin of victory after the opener was in the state finals.

With that victory, Clairton (16-0) joined Southern Columbia (Class A, 2002-06) and Berwick (Class AAA, 1994-97) as the only teams to win at least four consecutive state titles. The Bears also posted only the fourth shutout in the PIAA Class A title game and the first since Southern Columbia defeated Rochester, 35-0, in 2004.

The seniors finished their careers 63-1, with a 63-game winning streak they leave in the hands of the Class of 2014.

“I just loved the way the ending felt,” Boyd said. “We just worked hard every day for what we wanted, and we came out here and shined and showed everybody what we could do.”

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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