High School

“Mr. High School Sports” – PIAA Class A Championship Updates

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Southern Columbia and Clairton helmets

(Images courtesy of The Pennsylvania Helmet Project)

By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

We’re moments away from the opening kickoff of the 2011 PIAA Class A Football Championship game between the four-time WPIAL champion Clairton Bears (15-0) and the Southern Columbia Tigers (14-1), one of the state’s greatest Class A football dynasties of all-time.

The Bears, the lone District 7 representative at Hersheypark Stadium this weekend, are going for their WPIAL-record 47th consecutive win and third straight PIAA crown, while Southern Columbia is going for its seventh PIAA title in program history. It won five in a row 2002-06.

We’ll have updates on this game throughout the afternoon.

1:07 – Just getting underway. By the way, a couple of high school sports notes not related to the game:

*Vincentian AD and former Channel 11 anchor John Fedko will formally announce the beginning of a football program at the school, which will begin WPIAL play in 2014, this afternoon.

*The PIAA, by a count of 16-10, voted down a proposal that would have shortened the high school football season from 16 to 15 weeks. 21 votes were needed for the measure to pass. I find that somewhat ridiculous on the PIAA’s part; letting the season drag out till the week before Christmas, and leaving some winter sports teams short-handed at the beginning of their seasons, doesn’t seem right.

1:26 – Midway through the 1st quarter, still scoreless. Clairton had a good opportunity at the game’s outset, but turned the ball over on downs inside the S.C. 40 yard line.

1:36 – Late in the 1st quarter, and Clairton leads Southern Columbia 8-0 on an 88-yard TD pass from Capri Thompson to Terrish Webb, then a two-point pass to Trenton Coles. It’s hard for any team to match Clairton’s big-play capability.

1:40 – 2nd quarter underway at Hershey, same score.

1:46 – According to Mike White of the Post-Gazette, Trenton Coles has been shaken up and has left the game. We’ll keep an eye on him.

2:00 – Clairton answers right back; a 65-yard catch-and-run from Thompson to Webb makes it 14-6 Clairton with under 5 minutes left in the half. Two-point conversion no good.

2:15 – With under two minutes left in the half, Clairton’s lead is now 14-12 after a 3-yard TD run by Matt Moore. Two-point pass attempt failed. It appears Coles has returned for the Bears.

2:25 – There wasn’t much going on for Tyler Boyd…until he ripped for a 56-yard run that set up a goal-line plunge by Reuben Kelly. Clairton now leads 20-12, with the extra point pending…29 seconds left in the half.

2:27 – Clairton leads 21-12…they actually tried to kick this time, and Trenton Coles made it…but in the process, he got reamed, and has been carted off the field with a leg injury. Why no penalty?

2:30 – Halftime at Hershey, and Clairton leads Southern Columbia 21-12.

As has been said multiple times, and by multiple people, Clairton plays its best when it’s scared. Every time Southern Columbia has tightened the proverbial vice in this game, the Bears have concoted an escape, and every scoring drive has been keyed by a big play. So I would say, so far, this has been a typical Clairton game.

If Southern Columbia can continue to neutralize Boyd, that’s a colossal win for its defense (Boyd is the WPIAL’s overall scoring leader for 2011)…and it might be the only way the Tigers stay in the game, because Clairton has had answers for their offense. The good news for the Tigers is that they at least moved the ball some. Doing that alone against Clairton is tough enough.

Once again, I want a penalty on that extra point by Coles. I heard last weekend two of the WPIAL flag-bearers, Aliquippa and N.A., felt the officials “took care of” the eastern teams, if you will. They’re not completely right about that…but they’re not completely wrong, either.

The second half is minutes away.

2:45 – Thanks to Mike White for these first-half numbers: Clairton is ahead in total yardage as well, 279-141. Southern Columbia has 10 1st downs. Capri Thompson 4 of 6 for 165 yds 2 TD. Tyler Boyd has 71 total yards of offense.

2:50 – According to Kevin Gorman of the Trib, Trenton Coles has a torn MCL, ending his day and his season.

3:00 – Second half underway at Hersheypark Stadium. Can Clairton break Braddock’s district record for consecutive football wins?

3:10 – Late in the 3rd quarter, same score. Southern Columbia continues to move the ball on Clairton as impressively as any of its opponents has, but the Bears have made two equally impressive defensive stands deep in their own territory. Clairton getting serious pressure to the quarterback.

3:15 – Early 4th quarter…Clairton still ahead, but the Bears’ lead has been trimmed to 21-19. On the last play of the 3rd quarter, Matt Moore hauled in a 5-yard TD pass for his second score of the day. Ensuing kick was good.

Well, Bishop McCort and Taylor Riverside made Clairton work for it, so why should this time be any different…?

3:20 – I’m hearing rumblings that Clairton head coach Tom Nola is visibly upset with this officiating crew (and it’s not every day you see him visibly upset). Again, I can’t help but straddle the fence on this one. Part of me says, champions overcome, so shut up and play ball, but I’ve also seen some weird things happen since the WPIAL championship games.

3:30 – 8 minutes left in the game, same score. Clairton’s defense needs to hang tough.

3:35 – Clairton’s defense has indeed hung tough, for the moment. The Bears take over on downs with just over 6 minutes left and the long field to go.

3:45 – Tyler Boyd, with perhaps the play of the year in WPIAL football, a 78-yard zig-zagging TD run, has given Clairton a 27-19 lead with 5 minutes left.

3:50 – After a Southern Columbia fumble, Clairton trying to eat up the clock with 3 minutes left…

3:55 – Ballgame. Boyd runs 68 yards for another incredible touchdown. Two-point pass from Capri Thompson good. Clairton up on Southern Columbia 35-19 with 1:50 left in the 4th.

A couple thoughts as I’m following this unique moment in high school football history:

*I would argue what Clairton has done makes the Bears of the 2000’s better than Braddock of the 1950’s, because of what Clairton has done with such limited manpower. Unbelievable for such a small school to win so many games in a row in this era of WPIAL football, especially given the cylical nature of all high school sports.

*Say what you will about the talent pool in Class A, but Tyler Boyd, for my money, is the epitome of a “great” player, because, as the adage goes, he’s great when he has to be. Southern Columbia was doing so well in stopping him…and then, suddenly…well, you know.

4:00 – Congratulations to Tom Nola and the Clairton Bears! They defeat Southern Columbia 35-19 at Hersheypark Stadium to win their third PIAA Class A title in a row, and their 47th overall game in a row–a new WPIAL record!

In addition, Clairton now owns the longest active high school football winning streak in the nation; thanks to our friends at MaxPreps for corroborating that. Special thanks also to Mike White of the P-G, and to Kevin Gorman and Chris Harlan of the Tribune-Review for their contributions to this post.

Initially I was going to give my unofficial game ball to Terrish Webb for his early magic, but I have to give it to Boyd for going into Marshawn Lynch “beast mode” in the fourth, with the outcome still in doubt. Clairton’s defense, never to be overlooked, also finished the game superbly. Southern Columbia quarterback Brad Fegley was roughed up throughout the second half.

A recap of this historic game will appear later on 937thefan.com. Till then, see you in cyberspace!

More to come…

(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)

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