Clairton, Sto-Rox meet early in playoffs this year
By now, it's no secret that Sto-Rox, not Clairton, is the top-seeded team this season in the WPIAL Class A football playoffs.
Clairton (10-1), after years of domination, is seeded fourth.
“It's been different for us than it has been the past 3 or 4 years because of our lack of experience,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “We had to replace 19 starters.”
Among them are familiar names Tyler Boyd and Terrish Webb, a pair of college freshmen who already are playing prominent roles at Pitt.
For a change, Clairton and Sto-Rox (11-0) won't be playing in the Class A championship game this year. After facing each other for the title the past two seasons, they'll meet this time in the semifinals on Friday night at Chartiers-Houston.
That's not all that's different in this intriguing rivalry.
Clairton (10-1) isn't undefeated, like it was the past two years, when it went on to win its third and fourth consecutive PIAA titles, only the third team in Pennsylvania history to claim four in a row.
“As coaches, we've had to coach more and coach harder, and they've accepted it,” Nola said of his current team.
Clairton, which is appearing in the WPIAL Class A semifinals for an eighth consecutive season, saw its state-record 66-game winning streak halted against Monessen this season.
“We're a little bit younger, and it's a challenge for us,” Nola said.
In a bit of a role reversal, Sto-Rox now is the team with the notable Division I prospects. At the top of the list is quarterback Lenny Williams, who's passed for more than 8,000 career yards, the most in WPIAL history.
Wide receiver Mallory Claybourne (39 receptions for 996 yards and 12 touchdowns) and running back Brendan Blair (669 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns, 13 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns), among others, have given Williams support.
“We really don't talk about what happened last year,” Sto-Rox coach Dan Bradley said, referring to Clairton's 58-21 drubbing of the Vikings at Heinz Field in the WPIAL championship game. “They were the better team ... we felt we had a better team than what we showed. But that's in the past and we're playing for the present now.”
Clairton also defeated Sto-Rox, 42-6, for the 2011 title.
“Clairton has a very good record,” Bradley said. “To their fans, though, they're probably saying it's a down year. That's not true. You just don't hear the household names you've heard in the past.
“They have a good 1-2 punch at quarterback with (Aaron) Mathews and (Ryan) Williams.
But it is the Sto-Rox version of a Williams behind center that figures to draw the most attention.
As the WPIAL's all-time leader in passing yardage, senior Lenny Williams is a player to watch. His 2,353 yards this season has come on 110-for-166 passing for 66.3 percent.
Williams has thrown for 34 touchdowns and has not thrown an interception.
“We expect good things from him. We expect him to be perfect,” Bradley said. “He's a very disciplined football player and works within himself and within the system. He's had a great career here.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.