By Matt Popchock
So close, yet so far away.
The Rochester Rams allowed fewer points than the 14 that narrowly cost them gold medals against the Clairton Bears last year, but once again, the Bears conquered the Big 7 Conference flag-bearers at Heinz Field Saturday morning with the kind of suffocating defense only the Rams could dream of playing.
Senior quarterback/defensive end and Pitt recruit Desimon Green ran for the winning touchdown early and threw for an incredible game-clinching score late, and he led a defensive effort that yielded just 64 net yards to the Rams in Clairton’s 12-0 whitewash of Rochester (12-1) in the WPIAL Class A Championship.
Clairton (13-0) earned its third straight championship in Class A and ninth in school history, becoming the first school in the classification to win three in a row since the Rams did it in 2002, and the Bears have won their last four postseason meetings with them, including three straight at Heinz Field. This marks the fourth time in the last six years Rochester’s season has ended there.
The reward for the Bears is a PIAA Quarterfinal date with North Star (9-3), the District 5 Class A champion, at Somerset High School Friday night at 7:00.
It was the ninth shutout of the season for the Bears, as they ended the WPIAL portion of their schedule allowing just 26 points in all, though both teams did their part at the beginning of the game to keep the zeroes on the scoreboard intact. Green, who led Clairton with ten solo tackles, sacked his counterpart, Rochester senior Jason Adamson for his tenth sack of the season to kill the opening drive, then the teams traded interceptions twice in the first quarter, including one by Adamson from his defensive back position.
The second quarter began with Rochester finally marching into Clairton territory on a 20-yard run by senior tailback Nick Tapia, who ended his day with the same number of net yards on five carries. But Adamson, who only managed to complete two of his handful of passes for 21 yards, later on the series fired incomplete on fourth down, and the Bears took advantage of the possession change.
Green fared a little better on this day, completing five of his ten passes for 82 yards, and one of them was a 32-yard toss to Tyler Boyd that got Clairton in business once it took over. Two plays later Green called a QB draw, snuck through a hole on his left, and raced up the near sideline for the game’s first touchdown with 8:28 left in the period, and though Trenton Coles was wide on his P.A.T. try, Clairton maintained a 6-0 advantage into halftime. Green would end up with 48 yards on the ground on 14 carries.
Both schools continued flexing their defensive muscles in the third quarter. Green dragged down Kaylon Kenny for a ten-yard loss at a time when the Rams sorely needed to get their offense going. Tapia answered back by recording two second-half sacks and recovering a mishandled backward lateral when the Bears’ offense was on the move, returning it to the Clairton side of the field.
Once again, though, the Clairton defense stiffened, and even after a couple key plays engineered by Adamson put Rochester in position to tie the game or take the lead, the Bears forced yet another turnover on downs. It appeared the Rams’ offense might catch a second wind midway through the fourth quarter, but a halfback option pass failed and the Bears’ Eric Walker sacked Adamson to hold the Rams at around midfield. Clairton accounted for six of the 11 combined sacks.
With Rochester’s offense, which had powered its way to 448 points entering Saturday, stuck in neutral, it appeared all Clairton needed was to wind clock and secure the ball, and that’s just what the Bears did. Boyd swept his way around the right side into Rochester territory for an 18-yard gain, then Brandon Small burrowed his way inside the red zone on an impressive 13-yard run with just over two minutes to play in regulation. Facing fourth down, with 44 seconds remaining, Green was hit a moment after he threw a 21-yard desperation pass that was caught in the back corner of the end zone by Coles for the final points.
It was Green’s Class A-leading 25th TD pass of the season and 36th touchdown overall–also tops in the classification–not to mention Coles’ seventh touchdown catch. It was perhaps a fraction of a second from being a turnover on downs.
So close, yet so far away.
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