Clairton preparing for another challenge in PIAA semifinals
It's down to this: Week 15 of the high school football season, four teams still standing in each of the four classifications.
Yet another perceived mismatch defines the PIAA Class A semifinal-round game at 7 p.m. Friday at North Allegheny involving unbeaten and just once-challenged Clairton (14-0) and Sharpsville (11-3), though Clairton has gotten more resistance from opponents in recent weeks.
That, coach Wayne Wade said, was to be expected. No more cupcakes remain for the WPIAL champion and top-ranked team in the class.
“We understand what we have to do,” Wade said. “Last week showed us yet again that teams just aren't going to back down.”
Clairton, averaging 63.3 points per game, earned a spot in the semifinals with a 52-24 victory last week over District 5 champion Berlin Brothersvalley, which posted the second-highest point total against the Bears, who led the WPIAL in scoring defense.
At the same time, No. 9 Sharpsville was bowling over District 9 champion Kane, 50-14.
The winner will play for the PIAA championship Dec. 12 at Hersheypark Stadium against either No. 2 South Williamsport (13-1) or No. 3 Bishop Guilfoyle (14-0).
It was, to be clear, a mismatch on paper when Clairton and Berlin Brothersvalley met. But Berlin showed unexpected spunk after Clairton jumped to a 22-0 first-quarter lead.
The Mountaineers trailed by 13 points at halftime and had cut the deficit to 12 heading to the fourth quarter before Clairton quarterback Ryan Williams fired touchdown passes to Lamont Wade and James Hines.
Still, it marked the second-most points scored this season against Clairton.
“We had a little letdown after that WPIAL championship game (against Avonworth),” Wade said. “That game has always been big for Western Pennsylvania because it's been played in a stadium. We talked about it. We had a little lull in the second quarter and guys were taking shortcuts.”
But Wade said he's confident it won't happen again.
“We got that out of our system,” he said. “We'll be focused. We'll be a team ready to play.”
Clairton and Sharpsville will be meeting for the second time in four years in what is known as the “Western Final.” The Bears beat the Blue Devils, 30-8, in 2011 on their way to a third title during a run of four consecutive state championships from 2009-12.
“When there's only 16 teams left in the state, 16 teams practicing in December, that's pretty special,” Sharpsville coach Paul Piccirilli said.
By now, nothing's a secret about Clairton to Piccirilli and the Blue Devils.
“Besides being athletic and fast, they have 4-5 guys that all can catch the ball from a quarterback who is so poised in the pocket,” Piccirilli said. “He has the ability with those athletes running around like they do to find the open guy and make the play.”
In the past two games, Williams has passed for 643 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Lamont Wade, Clairton's sophomore running back, last week rushed for 115 yards and added 111 yards receiving, including a pair of touchdown catches.
Sharpsville could be without two-way star Greg Popatak, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior running back/inside linebacker, who injured his shoulder against Kane. But not before he scored on a 2-yard run and a 25-yard fumble recovery.
“He's a stud,” Piccirilli said of Popatak, who will attend James Madison on a baseball scholarship. “He's an amazing athlete, and I believe he could be a Division I football prospect, but he hits a baseball really hard.”
Prediction: Clairton, 44-13.
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.