After Clairton claimed its fourth consecutive WPIAL Class A title with a 42-6 victory over Sto-Rox last year, Bears coach Tom Nola deduced the difference in the outcome in the simplest way possible.
“We have Tyler Boyd,” Nola said, “and they don't.”
Boyd has led Clairton (12-0) back to Heinz Field, where second-seeded Sto-Rox (11-1) awaits a rematch.
Sto-Rox is the only thing standing between the Bears and the state record for consecutive victories, as Clairton is riding a 59-game streak that ties them with Central Bucks West.
“That's been amazing for Clairton, to hear the storyline that the seniors lost only their first game as freshmen,” Sto-Rox coach Dan Bradley said.
“That streak is theirs. For us, it's only one game. What I told the guys is, either way we're going to be part of history. Either we're going to win the WPIAL championship and be the team that ended the streak, or we're going to be the team they beat for No. 60.”
Bradley also has two of his top performers back in quarterback Lenny Williams and running back-linebacker Brendan Blair, but knows that his Vikings will have to play decidedly better to win.
Sto-Rox committed five turnovers, including four interceptions, and had more penalty yards (176) than yards of total offense (99) in the last meeting.
The Vikings know they can't beat Clairton with another such performance, which is why Bradley has challenged his team to play a precise game.
“That was one of the comparisons we made: If we want to play like a champion, to play like Clairton, we can't take plays off,” said Bradley, who replaced Ron Butschle as coach. “They're not taking the foot off the gas or losing focus or losing discipline. We all knew that Clairton was going to be there, but if we wanted to get back, that's the kind of effort we had to have.
“It's about getting back, giving a better showing and winning the game. Some of the mistakes or selfish acts we committed last year, it was lack of discipline, lack of team play. We wanted to get back to right those wrongs.”
Clairton will focus on stopping Williams, a three-year starter who has passed for 5,500 yards and rushed for nearly 2,000 during his career. He passed for 184 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns in the semifinal victory over North Catholic.
“We won't take them lightly. We know it's for a WPIAL championship,” Nola said. “We'll be ready to play Sto-Rox because it's Sto-Rox.
“They try to get Williams to run the ball and throw it some. On defense, they're sort of like us, they're aggressive and they try to put pressure on you. They've got speed. Last year, they had a lot of speed, but they still only scored six points.”
Boyd put on a dazzling performance against Sto-Rox last year by rushing for 141 yards and three touchdowns, including 55- and 47-yarders. He has more than 5,100 career rushing yards and 107 touchdowns, just three shy of the WPIAL record set by Hopewell's Rushel Shell.
Boyd is far from the Bears' only threat. They have Division I recruits in Titus Howard (Pitt) and Terrish Webb (Kent State), who combined for four turnovers against Sto-Rox last year.
And Clairton has no shortage of motivation, given that it has pointed to winning its 60th straight game all season.
“There was a lot of attention last game. I don't think there will be as much this game,” Nola said. “I don't know, but we should be motivated enough anyway. Not only is it for the WPIAL championship, but it's against Sto-Rox and it is 60.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812.
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