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PIAA “A” state championship preview – Clairton (15-0)

Written by: on Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

It’s been a long, long time since the WPIAL has seen a team have a run of dominance like the Clairton Bears have had these last few years. And really, in some facets, Clairton’s dominance is unlike anything the WPIAL or state has ever seen.

Clairton can add yet another notch in their caps to the dominance with a victory over a traditional eastern Pennsylvania powerhouse Friday afternoon in Chocolatetown.

Clairton (15-0) faces 20-time District 4 champion and 13-time PIAA A finalist Southern Columbia Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. from Hersheypark Stadium. Clairton is trying to do what no other WPIAL program – not Aliquippa, not Rochester, not Thomas Jefferson, not Upper St. Clair – not any of them – have done in program history – win three consecutive PIAA championships in a row. The Bears are also shooting for their 47th consecutive victory. Southern Columbia, meanwhile, is making its first PIAA finals appearance since 2006.

It used to be that Southern Columbia wore the big bullseye. But for the longest time, few could dethrone the Tigers. Now, Clairton has the bullseye painted on them – and Southern could be considered the underdog entering Friday’s showdown – but hardly anybody in the state has been able to do anything about it. Clairton has simply been that good.

The Bears last lost a game in September 2009, to Laurel, a school located near New Castle, 15-8. Since then, 46 games – 46 straight victories, three WPIAL titles, two PIAA titles and now a tie for the WPIAL’s longest winning streak with Braddock, who won 46 straight games during the 1950s. Braddock’s unbeaten streak actually extended to 56 games (55 wins and one tie), but the tie, which came in a WPIAL championship game against Midland (a school in Beaver County) dashed the winning streak.

What is especially notable about the 46-game win streak is that it has tied the nation’s longest active winning streak – owned also by New Jersey football powerhouse Don Bosco Prep, which figures to win its second consecutive (albeit, mythical) USA-Today national football championship. A victory over Southern Columbia would also give Clairton the longest active winning streak in the nation.

Focusing back in-state, Clairton’s run of dominance has been incredible. The Bears are an impressive 109-15 overall (.879) since the start of the 2003 season. They’ve won five WPIAL Class A titles in six years – the only other Class A team to come close to that feat was Rochester’s five WPIAL crowns in a seven year span from 1998 to 2004. The only WPIAL programs with at least five WPIAL titles in a six year span include Aliquippa (five AAA titles from 1984-’89) and the aforementioned Braddock team (six titles, five outright, from 1954-’59).

Clairton is one of only three WPIAL programs to play in three straight PIAA finals – West Allegheny (1999-2001) and Rochester (2000-’02) are the others. Three straight PIAA titles would give the Bears as many crowns as Rochester, Pittsburgh Central Catholic and Thomas Jefferson and move them ahead of programs like Aliquippa, Upper St. Clair, Farrell, North Allegheny and McKeesport, who have won two PIAA titles each in the WPIAL.

Also, during this 46-game winning streak, the Bears have scored an impressive 2,036 points, or an average of 44.3 points per game. They’ve scored 612 points or more each of the last four seasons (2011 included), a feat unmatched by any program. Senior offensive lineman Carvan Thompson will make his state-record 64th varsity football start Friday – over his four years as a Clairton Bear, the team is 61-2 and has averaged 42.2 points per game. Thompson has blocked for two 2,000-yard rushers and four 1,600+-yard passers in that time.

Clairton also has a little bit of pressure on it from a historical standpoint, too. It is the only WPIAL representative at Hershey this year. The last time the WPIAL only sent one representative to Hershey – 1989 – when Upper St. Clair took down Wilson-West Lawn. The WPIAL has not gone without a football state championship since 1992, when the four eastern representatives all claimed gold. Since 1993, the WPIAL has won at least one PIAA title. 2011 marks the 20th anniversary since the WPIAL’s championship blanking. It’s three reps that year – Upper St. Clair, Blackhawk and East Allegheny – were outscored a combined 82-31 over the three games.

The Bears have gotten it done with some home run hitters this year – junior running back Tyler Boyd, speedy junior wide receiver Terrish Webb and efficient passer and field general Capri Thompson (a senior).

Webb leads the team with more than 600 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. Thompson has thrown for 1,701 yards and 15 touchdowns while connecting on 79-of-125 passes (63.2 percent) and run for 451 yards and seven additional touchdowns on 73 carries. Pitt recruit Trenton Coles has hauled in 20 passes for 388 yards, though Coles missed a portion of the regular season with an ankle injury. Coles, a senior, also has kicked extra points on special teams this season, and is second on the Bears’ team in scoring, with 93 points.

Coles is second to Tyler Boyd – who has put up astronomical numbers as the team’s feature tailback. A junior who is getting looks and interest from Michigan State, Virginia, Southern California, Notre Dame, Oregon, Penn State, Pitt and West Virginia, among others, Boyd has carved up the opposition for 2,182 yards on 172 carries (12.7 yards per carry). He also has hauled in 16 passes for 386 yards. Between rushing, receiving, defensive and special teams touchdowns, Boyd has tallied 46 scores and also added 18 successful two-point conversions. He’s scored 312 of Clairton’s 670 points this season – 46.5 percent of the team’s scoring. Boyd enters the PIAA title game needing just 53 rushing yards to set Clairton’s single-season rushing yardage record (2,234), set by Deontae Howard in 2009.

Clairton’s offense, which averages more than 300 yards per game, is fronted by a line consisting of seniors Erik Walker (6’3, 245), Carvan Thompson (5’10, 215) and Garnett Gallmore (6’2, 235) and juniors Dyran Davenport (5’10, 215) and Devontae Harvey (6’1, 210). If Harvey doesn’t start, then senior Donte Thomas – all 6’1, 282 pounds of him – will get the nod.

The Bears’ defense sees a 5-3 formation – Thompson, Walker, Gallmore, Remondo Williams and Devante Gardlock hold down the line positions while Reuben Kelly, Davenport and Webb take the controls at linebacker. Coles, junior Titus Howard and Boyd round out the secondary. The Bears’ first-string and reserve defenses have combined to allow just 59 points – 3.9 points per game average – and have posted nine shutouts. Only Springdale scored 20 points on Clairton this season.

Can Clairton keep its dominance going and earn both the WPIAL’s all-time winning streak and potentially the longest active winning streak in the nation? Or will Southern Columbia be able to do what 46 other opponents have tried – and failed – to do?

Find out Friday afternoon.

Clairton High School athletic director James Wessel has contributed some of the information appearing in this story.

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