By Matt Popchock
Running back Josh Beverly and quarterback Lenny Williams both had to play through pain to help Sto-Rox (12-0) earn its 12-10 win over Bishop Canevin in last Friday’s WPIAL Semifinal at Moon High School’s Tiger Stadium.
But Beverly and Williams fully expect to start Saturday despite lower-body injuries, and they’ll try to make two-time PIAA champion Clairton (12-0) feel their pain when they meet to decide the 2011 WPIAL Class A Football Championship at 11:00 A.M., as seen live on ROOT Sports.
The Bears are once again the top seed in the bracket, and with 43 consecutive victories, they’re four shy of a new district record. The Vikings, the outright Big 7 Conference champions, are the No. 2 seed and perhaps the only team in the Commonwealth capable of ending that epic run.
Three of those 43 have come at Heinz Field, and Clairton, in fact, is trying to become the first WPIAL Class A team to win four consecutive titles, while also pursuing its fifth in the last six years. Meanwhile, Sto-Rox is chasing its first WPIAL football crown since 1987, when it won the Class AA title.
Its only other football championships have come in Class AA; Sto-Rox earned one during the first year of the Stowe High School-McKees Rocks High School merger in 1966, and prior to the merger, McKees Rocks won back-to-back championships in 1935 and ’36, with Stowe winning the following year.
To write the next chapter in program history, the pen is in the hands of both Beverly and Williams, among others who appear to have bright futures on the gridiron.
Williams leads Class A with 29 touchdown passes, and he has racked up 1,981 yards on 60% passing without throwing an interception. Last year, when Jordan Latimer went down, he was thrown into the proverbial frying pan as a freshman, but now he has this Sto-Rox offense cooking to the tune of 42.6 points per game, which ties Beth-Center for the second-best output in the classification.
His top target is Pitt recruit Marzett Geter, who leads Sto-Rox with 491 receiving yards, averaging nearly 20 per grab, and has found the end zone 14 times. Dontez Ford and Deaysean Rippy are effective out in the open as well.
Clairton won’t want to let Beverly out in the open either. He’s averaging a sick 14 yards per carry, which is tops in Class A, and he’s already run for over 1,200 yards and scored 19 total TD’s.
Defensively the Vikings have allowed just 8.8 points per game, tied with Beth-Center, again, for third in Class A, and at these smaller schools, you don’t win without being able to play high-quality ironman football. All those young man have excelled on the other side of the ball, and Rippy, who has yet to commit, is rated the No. 13 outside linebacker in the country by MaxPreps.
Rippy is at the forefront of the Division I talent on that roster, but with all respect to their accomplishments, if you really want to talk about stubbornness on defense, talk about Clairton.
It’s the biggest reason for their recent dominance of Class A, not just at the district level, but at the state level. Sto-Rox is known for eating up yardage, but these Bears have eaten teams alive. They’ve just about picked up where they left off while putting up historic numbers last season.
Clairton entered the playoffs averaging just two points allowed per game, leading the entire WPIAL, and it posted eight shutouts over a nine-game stretch at one point. It held Fort Cherry and Rochester, two of the most prolific offensive teams in Class A, to a combined 13 points.
Springdale, which only lost its WPIAL Quarterfinal matchup with the Bears by a 34-20 margin, seemed to have a formula for keeping them on their heels: pound the rock, and take full advantage of their mistakes, as this is not necessarily the most disciplined team you’ll see Saturday. Having said that, Clairton wins because it forces more mistakes than it makes.
Furthermore, Clairton, despite losing Karvonn “Mud Puppy” Coles to an ACL tear over the summer, can still play power football as any Class A team in the state. Tyler Boyd, the WPIAL’s leading scorer with 38 touchdowns and 252 total points, has rumbled for 1,720 yards and over 12.5 per carry, and enters the weekend with over 2,000 all-purpose yards.
He’ll be the focal point of that offense, but the Bears aren’t shy about opening up their playbook. Capri Thompson has been efficient all season while throwing for 1,392 yards and 11 TD against just four interceptions, completing 67% of his attempts.
Thompson has a real big-play threat in Pitt recruit Trenton Coles, who enters with 327 yards receiving, an average of over 18 per catch, and eight scores. Terrish Webb, who leads Clairton with 476 yards receiving, is another serious deep threat.
Frankly, it wouldn’t be farfetched to think that whichever team’s secondary plays better will control the game. Coles and Capri Thompson have each contributed in that area too, while center/nose guard Carvan Thompson has been rock-steady up front, along with his mates.
It also wouldn’t be farfetched to say that Clairton plays its best football when it gets scared. Sto-Rox has the talent to strike fear into the heart of just about any opponent, so it’ll be real interesting to see what kind of effort the champs put forth as they try to continue chasing history.
Tune into “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show” Saturday morning at 7:00 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan, for pre-game coverage, and follow the “Mr. High School Sports” blog Saturday for wall-to-wall coverage of the 2011 WPIAL Football Championships!
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)