Clairton overcomes slow start to defeat Frazier
Even though their legendary 66-game winning streak was snapped earlier this season, two large prizes were still on the table for coach Tom Nola and his Clairton Bears.
The five-time defending WPIAL and four-time defending PIAA champions are still very much in the hunt for gold after their workmanlike 33-14 win Friday night over a pesky Frazier squad in a WPIAL Class A first-round playoff game. Clairton increased its record to 9-1, and the Commodores ended their season at 7-3.
“We've been getting better on both sides of the ball as the season has gone on,” Nola said. “It has been real nice to see that happen.”
After a sluggish start that saw the Bears turn the ball over on their first two possessions, Clairton showed why it is a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of this postseason.
Frazier's defense gave the red-clad Commodore faithful reasons to cheer early, forcing Bears star quarterback/running back Aaron Matthews to fumble twice in the first quarter. Joe Horvath recovered the first Matthews fumble at the Frazier 21 to stop a Bears drive. Nate Zurich short-circuited the next Bears possession when he recovered Matthews second fumble near midfield.
But Matthews and the rest of his mates shrugged off the malaise.
Clairton got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter with a 90-yard scoring march. Matthews finished the drive with a 16-yard run into the end zone. He also added the 2-point conversion via the run, giving the hosts an 8-0 lead.
Frazier got back into the contest when Nick Smalich recovered a Harrison Dreher fumble on the Commodores' 40-yard line. The visitors took advantage of the Bears' third turnover by moving 60 yards in eight plays. Charles Manack capped the march with a 13-yard strike to Dakota Hixson. Hixson returned the favor on the conversion attempt when he took a reverse hand off and found Manack in the end zone to tie the score at 8-8 midway through the second period.
The champs appeared somewhat wobbled, but Matthews and Dreher stabilized the Bears over the final seven minutes of the half. Clairton drove 59 yards on five plays on its next possession, highlighted by an Aaron Matthews 24-yard completion to JoJuan Bray. Matthews scored from 4 yards, giving the Bears a 14-8 lead. Vance Allen recovered Smalich's fumble on the subsequent kickoff. After several Dreher runs to the Frazier 6, Matthews was in the end zone again, pushing Clairton's lead to 20-8.
Manack led the Commodores up the field in an effort to close the half with a score, but the drive ended at the Bears' 41-yard line with an incomplete pass as time ran out.
Matthews showed his talents as receiver early in the third period when he took a Ryan Williams swing pass and raced 52 yards through the Commodore defense and into the end zone for a 27-8 lead.
“He is our best athlete,” Nola said about Matthews. “No matter where we put him, running back, receiver, running quarterback, he does it all so very well. He is special.”
Clairton's defense forced another turnover when Jyleel Hall recovered a Manack fumble on the Commodores' 17-yard line. Clifford Ramone scored two plays later to put the game out of reach.
Manack kept winging the ball for the Commodores, leading an 80-yard march late in the third that resulted in a 2-yard scoring toss to Hixson.
“He is a very good quarterback” Nola said of Manack. “But I think we just had too much speed for them defensively.”
Frazier coach Mike Steeber said his team's inability to establish a ground game was costly.
“We chipped away with our passing game,” Steeber said. “We just could not sustain a ground game.”
Clairton had no such issues running the ball. Dreher finished with 150 yards on 18 carries, and Matthews chipped in with 134 yards on 16 carries.
The Bears move on to face Fort Cherry in the quarterfinals next week.