Class A breakdown: Clairton ready to begin drive for five
Over the last few years, Class A football has been divided into two groups.
There's Clairton and then everybody else.
To say the four-time defending WPIAL champion and reigning three-time state champion Bears have dominated their opponents is an understatement. Since the team lost a 15-8 decision in the 2009 season opener at Laurel, Clairton has won a WPIAL-record 47 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the country.
And Clairton has yet another record in its sights. The Bears have an opportunity, if they go undefeated through the regular season and win the WPIAL title, to not only be the first team since Braddock (1955-59) to win five consecutive outright titles in the same classification, but also eclipse Central Bucks West's state record of 59 consecutive victories.
“They're aware of it,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “We haven't talked about it, but everybody in Clairton's aware of it.”
So is the rest of the WPIAL. No one is ready to concede the streak to Clairton, but there is little doubt the Bears remain the team to beat heading into 2012.
“I think that it is Clairton, without a doubt,” Bishop Canevin coach Bob Jacoby said. “We've seen them in 7-on-7s, and they just have a great group coming back. Tom Nola's done a great job preparing them, and they're going to be tough to beat.”
Clairton's quest for a WPIAL title won't come easy, thanks to a challenging conference slate.
The biennial WPIAL realignment did no favors for the Bears as it created what amounts to a 10-team Black Hills superconference that includes seven of the 16 teams that qualified for the 2011 playoffs, including two conference champions (Clairton and Bishop Canevin) and an unknown quantity in first-year program Imani Christian.
“The conference is really loaded with playoff teams from last year, and these are all quality teams,” Jacoby said. “I think that it's the toughest of the ‘A' conferences because you don't have a chance to play an exhibition game … and when you look at all the players in the conference that have already committed to Division I schools and at a lot of the coaches, you have to have a lot of respect for everyone in this conference.”
All it means is, with no nonconference games, each team will be playing what amounts to a playoff game every week.
All that pressure on Clairton each Friday, along with the added pressure of keeping a winning streak alive, may eventually open the door for some team to pull off a Laurel-like upset.
“The conference is a lot tougher this year, and our conference is loaded,” Nola said.
“Our toughest competition might be in the conference. I'm not saying anything bad about the other conferences because Rochester is always good and Springdale's good, but in our conference, everybody is really good.”