Clairton rallies from 1st-half deficits to beat Fort Cherry
Clairton and Fort Cherry couldn't seem to score fast enough, but by the time their WPIAL Class A quarterfinal game ended, Clairton had poured it on.
Sophomore Harrison Dreher rushed for 116 yards and scored three touchdowns to lead fourth-seeded Clairton past 12th-seeded Fort Cherry, 52-35, on Friday night at Elizabeth Forward, sending the Bears (10-1) into the semifinals against top-seeded Sto-Rox.
Clairton fought back from deficits of 14 and 15 points to take a 30-29 halftime lead, scoring twice in the final 5:01 of the second quarter.
“It just shows the type of character our kids have,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “They're always confident. Maybe that's why we've won 75 of 76 games.”
It was the 30th consecutive postseason victory, including 22 in a row in the WPIAL playoffs, for five-time WPIAL champion Clairton.
Fort Cherry (10-2), which scored just six points after halftime, suffered its only regular-season loss to the Bears, 36-28, on Sept. 27.
“Quite frankly, I am still shell-shocked,” Fort Cherry coach Jim Shiel said. “We were in control of that game then they hit a couple of big plays, and it seemed like fundamental football went by the wayside for us. We stopped tackling.”
Koltan Kobrys, who rushed for more than 2,000 yard this season, gained 176 for the Rangers, and quarterback Matthew Heslin passed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Alex Babirad.
Dreher's 55-yard touchdown run pulled Clairton within 29-22 before Aaron Mathews raced 39 yards and Raymone Clifford rushed for the 2-point conversion to give the Bears their one-point halftime lead.
Then, the Clairton defense turned it up a notch.
“The defense made the adjustments at halftime and played a whole lot better in the second half,” Nola said. “Frankly, we moved the ball on offense well the entire game. We were good running and throwing.”
The run-oriented Mathews and Ryan Williams, splitting time at quarterback for Clairton, combined for 146 yards through the air, with Mathews' 60 yards coming on a second-quarter touchdown strike to Dreher, who also scored on a 51-yard run in the third quarter.
Kobrys, a senior who finished the season with 2,262 yards rushing, gave Fort Cherry a 7-0 lead on a 20-yard touchdown run on the Rangers' first possession.
Clairton came right back on Jjuan Jackson's 77-yard interception return, and James Hines ran for the 2-point conversion to put the Bears ahead 8-7.
Heslin hit Babirad with a 29-yard scoring pass and Kobrys with a 19-yarder for back-to-back scores for Fort Cherry, and the Rangers seemed to take control at 22-8.
After Mathews' 60-yard pass to Dreher pulled Clairton within 22-14, Kobrys raced 39 yards for a touchdown to put Fort Cherry up 29-14.
That's when Clairton turned things around, scoring twice on runs of 55 yards by Dreher and 39 by Mathews to take the lead for good.
Hines caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Williams, and Dreher scored on a 51-yard run before Jackson scored his second touchdown on just his second carry, a 6-yard run, for Clairton.
Fort Cherry's only second-half points came with 3:10 left on Heslin's 35-yard pass to Babirad.
“Kobrys is a good player, and so is No. 7 (Babirad),” Nola said. “But we've got good players, too.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.