Clairton's Terrish Webb dives into the end zone for a touchdown against Dunmore's John Rinaldi in the PIAA Class A championship Friday at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa.
Clairton teammates (left to right) Vinny Moody, Devonte Harvey and Tyus Booker hold up their trophy after their team's win against Dunmore in the PIAA Class A championship Friday at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pa.
The Clairton Bears hoist the title trophy as they celebrate their fourth consecutive PIAA championship and extend Pennsylvania record to 63 wins in a row Friday at HersheyPark Stadium.
The Clairton Bears celebrate their fourth consecutive PIAA Class A championship.
By Mike White Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
HERSHEY, Pa. -- It was only 25 minutes before game time, and Clairton was in the dark. The Bears hit the light switch in their locker room and sat silently in the bowels of Hersheypark Stadium, listening to a 12-minute inspirational message from NFL player Ray Lewis that was pulled off the Internet.
Then, Clairton went out and put the shine on yet another championship trophy.
Clairton turned in a superb defensive effort and had more than 400 yards of offense in defeating Dunmore, 20-0, Friday in the PIAA Class A championship in front of 3,851.
It was another win, another championship trophy and more history for the Bears. A few players signed autographs on the sideline before the game, but the Bears collectively put their names in the record book after the contest.
The win stretched their state-record winning streak to 63 games and tied the Bears for the 13th-longest streak in the history of high school football in the United States. In addition, Clairton became only the third school in Pennsylvania history to win four consecutive PIAA titles. The others were Southern Columbia and Berwick.
But while the win finished off a third consecutive 16-0 season, it had Clairton coach Tom Nola struggling to find words.
"Sixty-three in a row?" Nola said. "That's like ... That's ... It's hard to really ..."
What made this PIAA title different than the previous three was this one came by shutout, the first in a Class A title game since 2004. Dunmore had a definite size advantage on the lines, but Clairton limited Dunmore to six first downs and 115 total yards. On offense, Clairton's Tyler Boyd rushed for 117 yards on 20 attempts and quarterback Armani Ford completed 10 of 18 passes for 150 yards.
What also made this championship different from the first three for Clairton was emotion. There were a few tears before the game.
"That was the most emotional that locker room has ever been since I've been coaching here," said Eric Fusco, Clairton's linebackers coach.
The passionate speech from Lewis was made to a group of school-age kids in Florida and was taken off YouTube.com. Lewis talked about what it takes to succeed in sports -- and in life. Clairton never had played Lewis' speech before a game, but it was blared through speakers in the locker room.
"Even my emotions ran over, and that usually doesn't happen," said Wayne Wade, Clairton's defensive coordinator. "We were about to come out and do something historical."
Nola said, "It was emotional because this would be the last time for these seniors."
The senior class had a record of 63-1. It had been 1,197 days since their most recent -- and only -- loss. And they put an exclamation point on this title.
"That's pretty impressive to finish it off with a shutout in the state championship game," Nola said.
Clairton beat Dunmore the way Dunmore beat most teams. Clairton sustained long drives throughout the game and finished ahead in time of possession, 30:23 to 17:37. The Bears had a 19-play, 97-yard drive that ate up more than eight minutes of the clock, but ended with Clairton turning the ball over on downs.
"Ever since Monday of this week, we said no clowning around. We had to push, push and fight," Boyd said. "We based everything [Friday] off what the offensive and defensive lines did because that's what we roll with."
Clairton rolled to all the points it needed on its first possession, covering 63 yards in eight plays for a score. Boyd capped the march with a 5-yard touchdown run. Boyd finished his career with a WPIAL-record 117 touchdowns and also 5,755 career rushing yards, fifth-best in WPIAL history.
Clairton's second touchdown came late in the first quarter. After the 97-yard drive stalled at the 2, Clairton's defense held and forced a punt. The Bears took over at the 45 and moved 55 yards in four plays. Terrish Webb scored a touchdown on a 21-yard pass from Ford. The 2-point conversion pass from Ford to Webb made it 14-0 with 40 seconds left in the first half.
"You have to have some speed to beat them," Dunmore coach Jack Henzes said. "They do so many things well. Tyler Boyd is an outstanding athlete, but they have other athletes who do such a good job. They really make you miss tackles."
Clairton played without standout receiver-defensive back Titus Howard (dislocated left elbow). But the Bears defense was still superb.
"They had one pass play that they missed, but other than that they didn't really come close to scoring," Wade said.
Clairton's final touchdown came with 4:06 left in the game when Ford ran 29 yards into the end zone.
"They didn't give us any big plays like we usually get," Nola said. "But we had some long drives."
After the game, when the PIAA announced Clairton to come to the center of the field for the championship trophy, Nola yelled at his team, "only the seniors."
For certain, this senior class never will be forgotten. This Clairton run of victories never will be forgotten. The Bears will go into hibernation until next year, when they will try to extend the streak with an inexperienced team. Nola said he is not sure if he will be back or retire.
No matter what, this title had a personal twist for Nola. His mother, Jan, 79, rarely misses a game, but had been in the hospital for more than a week with a heart ailment. She had a defibrillator installed in her chest Thursday, but she was at the game Friday, watching from a wheelchair in a bright orange Clairton sweatshirt. Tom Nola's brother, Chris, pushed his mother around the stadium in the wheelchair.
"I had to talk some people into letting me come to this game," Jan Nola said. "No way I was going to miss this."