Over the course of a 66-game winning streak and an unprecedented four-year run of success, Clairton often knew where to turn for a big play in an equally big moment.
But with all of their stars from a year ago gone and holding onto a 10-point lead against a spirited opponent in the third quarter, the Bears needed something.
Lamont Wade, the most recent product of a long lineage of Clairton football players, was more than happy to answer the call.
Wade raced along the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown, a run that helped pad the lead and ultimately was the difference in a 36-28 victory Friday night against host Fort Cherry in a game between the top two teams in the Class A Black Hills Conference.
In the win, Wade rushed for 121 yards on 11 carries as Clairton avoided its first multigame losing streak since 2005.
"We try to learn from every game," Clairton coach Tom Nola said. "Hopefully we can correct some of these things like we did this week. We corrected a lot from last week. We're pleased with the win."
By the end of what turned out to be a chippy and oftentimes sloppy game, the teams combined for more than 250 penalty yards and seven turnovers.
The loss overshadowed what was an excellent performance from Fort Cherry running back Koltan Kobrys. Entering the game as the WPIAL's second-leading rusher, Kobrys ran for 207 yards and figured in two touchdowns.
Through the first quarter, the game did not look that different from many of Clairton's contests from the previous four seasons. On their first possession, the Bears drove 77 yards with relative ease, with running back Clifford Raymone finishing things off with a 10-yard touchdown run.
About four minutes later, quarterback Aaron Matthews connected with JoJuan Bray, who caught the underthrown pass and raced across the middle of the field for a 53-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 16-0 lead with 26 seconds left in the quarter.
But the Rangers, faced with their best chance to knock off their conference's perennial power, responded.
After recovering a fumble on the Bears 21-yard line, quarterback Matthew Heslin lofted a touchdown pass to Alex Babirad on the very next play to cut the deficit in half, 16-8. On Fort Cherry's ensuing drive, Kobrys run up the middle for a 16-yard touchdown that made the score 16-14 after a failed two-point conversion attempt.
Clairton added to its lead before halftime, getting a 24-yard touchdown pass from Wade to Matthews on a well-executed double reverse to go up, 22-14.
Matthews and Harrison Dreher then hooked up on a 49-yard touchdown pass on the team's first offensive play of the second half. Not even two minutes later, quarterback Ryan Williams, in for Matthews, threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Bray, punctuating a Clairton drive that lasted a little more than two minutes.
As they did for much of the night, the Rangers came back, this time on a 42-yard touchdown pass from Kobrys out of the wildcat formation.
Wade's 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the next drive pushed the lead to 16, but a methodical drive from Fort Cherry, capped by a short touchdown run from Heslin, brought the Rangers back within a single possession. Fort Cherry twice got into Clairton territory in the final five minutes, but both drives ended in turnovers.
"We could play with this team and I think we proved that," Fort Cherry coach Jim Shiel said. "But we have to shore things up defensively."
A week after their winning streak was snapped, the Bears were able to respond, even if there's still work that needs to be done. "They're not where they need to be, but that was better tonight," Nola said.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG First Published September 28, 2013 4:15 AM