Clairton survives scare
By Josh Yohe
Published: Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, 1:04 a.m.
At one point, Clairton coach Tom Nola threw his headphones into the air.
He hung on to the headphones before they hit the ground, just like his team held on. Barely.
Clairton won its 48th consecutive game in stunningly unconvincing fashion, beating a Chartiers-Houston team, 22-20, that it usually handles with ease.
“Not our best game,” Nola said. “Not even close.”
Clairton played without 12 players, who are academically ineligible or unable to play for other off-field matters.
The leader of the Bears wasn't pleased with his team's performance, nor was Tyler Boyd happy that Clairton was depleted. Boyd, who was held to only 84 yards, was exhausted following a game that saw Clairton essentially play without back-ups because of its lack of depth.
“It's just very disappointing in every possible way,” Boyd said. “It's disappointing that we have so many people out of the lineup right now. We had no depth at all, and it was a hot night. We were exhausted. I kept telling guys in the huddle, ‘I know you're out of gas. I am too. But keep on fighting.'”
The Bears had just enough fight to avoid what would have been one of the biggest upsets in WPIAL history.
Nola's team most recently dropped a game in Week 1 of the 2009 season at Laurel. That game was very much on the coach's mind. The three-time defending state champions were shorthanded and sluggish from the outset.
“I kept thinking about the Laurel game and I really was nervous,” Nola said. “Chartiers-Houston played a good game, and we just couldn't do anything right. We just kept making so many mistakes, over and over again.”
Clairton's normally nasty defense allowed a plethora of big plays, including two of which went for more than 70 yards. Chartiers-Houston tariled at halftime, 14-13.
After Clairton appeared to pull away in the second half, the Bucs again responded. A touchdown with two minutes left pulled Chartiers-Houston within two points. Boyd recovered an onside kick, and the game was put away when Bryon Cliffard scampered for a first-down run later in the possession.
The Bears' inability to run effectively was notable. Playing without multiple starters on the offensive line, the Bears simply couldn't run the ball with any reliability. Boyd was stuffed for losses on five occasions.
“The offensive line really struggled,” Nola said. “It was a big concern of mine going into the season, and it still is. Tyler just had nowhere to go all night.”
Clairton was also its own worst enemy.
The Bears lost three fumbles and committed 14 penalties, including a bizarre call that saw Boyd penalized for hurdling a would-be tackler.
Boyd was displeased with every aspect of his team following the game.
“There are a lot of people who need to step it up right now,” he said. “There are a lot of people slacking on this team. Tonight wasn't good enough.”
Boyd is well aware of the fact that this final score will create shockwaves around the WPIAL. But he doesn't care. Clairton has won the state championship in each of his first three years, and he doesn't expect that streak to change.
After Week 3, most of Clairton's team will be intact.
“I'm not worried about what people are saying about us after this game,” he said. “We didn't play well. We need to be better. But we're going to be fine.”
Nola sure hopes so.
The veteran coach let out of sigh of relief following the contest. Neither of his quarterbacks — Armani Ford or Clifford — played particularly well, his offensive line is in shambles and his normally unbeatable defense endured communication issues all game.
Clairton looked more vulnerable than at any point during its 48-game winning streak.
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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