By Matt Popchock
Beating one of the best Class A teams in the Commonwealth wasn’t supposed to be this easy. But the way Tom Nola puts it, the key to victory number 44 in a row for his Bears was pretty academic.
“We’ve got Tyler Boyd, and they don’t,” the head coach said with a smile.
Boyd, a probable Division I prospect, rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries, and also contributed two two-point conversions and one of four defensive interceptions in Clairton’s 42-6 rout of Sto-Rox in the WPIAL Class A Football Championship at Heinz Field Saturday.
“I know I tell them this all the time,” Nola said, “but it’s really unbelievable what they do.”
Funny you should say that…
The Bears forced five turnovers in all and held Sto-Rox’s offense, which had been averaging over 42 points per game and had engineered several of its own running-clock victories, to just 99 net yards.
“There’s no question in my mind that’s the best team in Single-A, and they certainly proved it tonight,” said Sto-Rox head coach Ron Butschle, who has led the Vikings to the Class A Final in two separate coaching stints. “Things snowballed, and they snowballed quickly. We didn’t just give away the ball, we gave them good field position too.”
With the win, Clairton captured its fourth straight district title, and it also moved to within three more wins of breaking the WPIAL record for longest winning streak held by Brookline, which, in fact, is also the only other WPIAL football school to win four championships in a row.
“We played a good team today. They just made too many mistakes. Our kids just played their game,” Nola remarked.
That game usually entails physically breaking the will of their opponents, and making them pay a price for every hash mark, though quite frankly, both defenses were their usually dominant selves in a scoreless first quarter.
Having said that, it took literally 12 seconds of second-quarter play for Boyd to humble the Vikings.
Immediately following a punt he took a wildcat snap and took off to his left, shedding a tackle deep in Sto-Rox territory and weaving to a 55-yard touchdown. Boyd went wildcat again for an easy two-point conversion (since Clairton does not have a natural placekicker on its roster) to give the Bears the game’s first points.
“It felt like we came out and set the tone, especially my blockers,” Boyd said. “I don’t think I could have made those scoring plays without them.”
After the first of Terrish Webb’s two interceptions, fullback Kaylan Kenney made way for Boyd with a 32-yard run up the middle. The WPIAL’s top scorer capped the drive with a six-yard TD run, and caught the Vikings napping for two more points to give Clairton a 16-0 cushion with 3:21 left in the first half.
Webb’s damage, naturally, was far from done. He made a shoestring catch of a ten-yard pass from Capri Thompson, then got open in front of Kevin Hooper for the ensuing two-point conversion to make it 24-0 Bears with 57 seconds left.
“It was awesome. I felt like I was a big-time player,” Thompson said of starting at Heinz Field for the first time.
He wasn’t alone. Pitt recruit Marzett Geter showed great concentration 26 seconds later while hauling in one of his two receptions, a 54-yard touchdown, to crack the Vikings’ goose egg.
Two defensive backs over-committed, and that was one of the few mistakes Clairton would make moving forward, as Geter’s taunting penalty cost his team P.A.T. yardage, and the Bears led 24-6 at the break.
Clairton took the second half kickoff and atoned for that miscue quickly by putting the ball in Boyd’s hands and letting him do the rest. He raced up the middle, cut hard to the right, and outran the Vikings’ secondary for a 47-yard touchdown, his third of the day and 35th of the year, for a 30-6 advantage.
Not only had the Bears more than doubled their output in each of their three consecutive championship victories, but they had also embarrassed a defense allowing less than nine points per game.
“The key was to keep them off balance. We wanted to run Tyler a lot, but we also wanted to run different running backs and different kinds of schemes,” Thompson said.
Meanwhile, the Bears continued to harass sophomore quarterback Lenny Williams, who finished an otherwise admirable 12 of 20 for 127 yards, and top rusher Josh Beverly, who gained just three yards on eight tries.
A 20-yard scoring run by Devant Gardlock with 4:37 left in the fourth, and a 14-yard touchdown run by Bryon Clifford after the ensuing kickoff was fumbled punctuated the Bears’ big day.
“Not only are they athletic, but they’re strong,” Butschle said. “They got off the ball and disrupted our run game, and that made a big difference.”
Three games. That’s all that separates Clairton from yet another page in the western PA history books.
“Everyone’s aware of it. I don’t think there’s any pressure on the players, maybe on the coaches a little bit. Every week [the players] try to calm me down…they say, ‘don’t worry, we’ve got this.’ But I’ll still worry anyway,” Nola said with a chuckle.
Clairton opens the PIAA playoffs against District 5 champion North Star next weekend at Yough High School. Meanwhile, Sto-Rox is left to reflect upon a great season that ended in less-than-great fashion.
“Today is very painful for the kids and the whole community,” Butschle said. “But when we look back and realize what they accomplished, I’m very proud of them.”
“This hurts,” Geter said of losing to the defending champs. “But I definitely respect them.”
After a performance like this, the rest of PIAA Class A had better do the same.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)