Frazier hopes to avoid Clairton repeat
A year ago, when Frazier traveled to Clairton for a WPIAL Class A first round playoff game, the Commodores scored first and took a 6-0 lead.
The final score ended up 58-6. Clairton.
What happened after Frazier took a 6-0 lead?
“Tyler Boyd took a snap and ran for a touchdown,” Frazier coach Mike Steeber said with a laugh. “After that ...”
His words trailed off, but no further explanation was necessary.
Friday night, Frazier (7-2) visits Clairton (8-1) again for a first round game.
Boyd is gone to Pitt and so is Clairton's record 66-game winning streak, having been stopped earlier this season by Monessen.
Still, the Bears are the five-time defending WPIAL and four-time defending PIAA champs.
So what will it take for the Commodores to avoid another long night?
“We have to play for four quarters and stay in the game,” Steeber said. “To do that, you have to stop their running game and their special teams and defense.
“Clairton runs the ball very well, but what I think has made them so special is their special teams and defense. They play every game on the other side of the field and when they get a turnover, they turn it into points pretty quick. You think you're doing OK and you look up at the scoreboard and you are four scores behind.”
While Bears don't have Boyd, or their freshman running back who opened the season, Lamont Wade, who went down with a knee injury, they still have a talented cast of player led by quarterback Aaron Matthews.
Matthews hasn't thrown the ball much, but has rushed for 834 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
“Matthews is a tremendous athlete,” Steeber said. “He can really run with the ball and is elusive. He is a gifted football player. We have to be wary of him, but they have other good players and that's why they are 8-1.”
Although Matthews hasn't put the ball in the air too much this season, it's only because he hasn't had to, Steeber said.
“From what I've seen, he can throw it and when he does the results are usually a big play,” he said. “But the way they can pile it on teams quickly, he hasn't had to throw it.”
Steeber said the Bears have a winning formula and tradition that allows them to simply reload whenever they have to.
“They have a great tradition going,” Steeber said. “You don't become a four-time defending state champ without one.”Frazier will counter with one of the WPIAL's top passing attacks, led by quarterback Charles Manack.
Manack has thrown for 1,653 yards and 25 TDs in Frazier's pass-happy attack.
His top receivers are Dakota Hixson (30 rec., 671 yards, 8 TDs) and Nathaniel Zurich (25-436, 7 TDs).
Steeber says normally a good passing attack is tough to defend, but schools like Frazier have had extensive work in dealing with passing teams during the summer.
“With the growing 7-on-7 camps, teams have had a lot of work defending passing attacks,” he said. “Of course, in the games with pads on it is a whole different story. But I'm sure they will be ready.”
Of course, Frazier had a solid ground attack with Nick Smalich (111 carries, 779 yards, 9 TDs) and L.A. Ross (34-427, 8 TDs).
“Those guys came out of nowhere,” Steeber said of the duo. “We went into the season with Chase Bertocci and Zach Mastowski as our top two backs and they got hurt early. Those two have really stepped up and played well.”
Can the Commodores come away with a win Friday night?
“We're not going there to lose,” he said. “Even last year, our kids played hard and physical and I was proud of them. That Clairton team was really, really good. Nobody beat them.
“This Clairton team is good, too. So we will see what happens.”
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.