Clairton gets back to winning ways, edges Fort Cherry
It wasn't pretty; it wasn't clean.
And it most certainly wasn't efficient.
But it was just what Clairton needed.
The battered Bears, one week removed from losing their nation-long 66-game winning streak, were impressive throughout offensively and held on to beat previously undefeated Fort Cherry, 36-28, on Friday.
“I wouldn't say it was ugly,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “There were a lot of points, at least.”
Nola was pleased with the victory but remains unhappy with his team.
During the Nola era, No. 7 Clairton (4-1, 4-1) has gone months without permitting 28 points. But this is a different, younger Clairton team, one without killer instinct.
“I'm tired of making the young excuse,” Nola said. “We just need to get better.”
Fort Cherry coach Jim Shiel was proud of his team's effort — the No. 5 Rangers trailed by 16 early and were only a late fumble away from possibly tying the game — but not with the officiating.
His team was called for more than 150 penalty yards.
“I never blame referees,” he said.
One play in particular, though, bothered Shiel.
In the first quarter, Fort Cherry quarterback Matt Heslin fumbled a snap from the shotgun formation. The referee clearly blew the play dead after the ball was snapped, which may have been why Heslin fumbled. Clairton recovered the ball, and officials told Shiel the whistle blew before the ball was snapped and was intended to start the clock.
“The whistle blew before,” Shiel said, shaking his head.
Shiel's dismay was understandable, given that his team appeared to have Clairton on the ropes in the second half.
He sensed Clairton's defense was tired.
“Absolutely it was,” he said. “We knew we could run the ball against them. We knew we could push them around.”
Three players stood out.
Clairton quarterback Aaron Mathews completed all six of his passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. His ankle finally healthy, Mathews was the game's dominant player in the first half.
“We were certainly much better on offense,” Nola said. “Those first two drives, we looked great.”
The game looked all but over in the second half when Lamont Wade, the freshman Clairton running back, broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run.
Fort Cherry's Koltan Kobrys, however, was just heating up.
The bullish running back barreled his way for 200 yards on 26 carries. He also threw for a touchdown pass and appeared to have Clairton tired in the second half.
“What a player he is,” Nola said.
Fort Cherry (4-1, 4-1) beat Monessen two weeks ago, and it was Monessen that ended Clairton's winning streak last season.
However, Shiel said his team didn't feel like a favorite entering the game.
“We were really tight early,” he said.
Clairton walked onto the field looking angry and focused and put together two magnificent drives early in the game.
Unlike past years, however, Clairton didn't put the game away when it looked like a blowout was inevitable.
“We just have so much to work on,” Nola said. “So much. But it's OK. At least we won this week, so that's better.”