Clairton coach Tom Nola had a simple, yet meaningful message for his senior players moments before they took the field for the final time last Friday.
"I told them before the game this is the last time these seniors will play for Clairton," Nola said. "You might be tired, hurt or whatever. But you have to give everything."
Not only did the Bears give everything, they also won everything.
The Clairton dynasty as well as its legend continued to grow with a 20-0 shutout win against Dunmore in the PIAA Class A championship at Hersheypark Stadium.
The list of honors the Bears' seniors accumulated extended to these almost unfathomable numbers: 63 wins in a row (the most in state history); four consecutive PIAA titles (the first team from Western Pennsylvania ever to do that); four WPIAL titles (the Bears have actually won five in a row, the first when these seniors were just in eighth grade); three consecutive 16-0 seasons.
The senior class finished 63-1 in their varsity careers.
"This group of seniors, you have to take your hat off to them," defensive coordinator Wayne Wade said. "They were in the championship game four years in a row and won every time."
As far as PIAA championship wins go, this Clairton win was most similar to their 15-3 triumph against Bishop McCort in 2009.
That game, however, wasn't decided until the fourth quarter. This season's win against Dunmore, while not a blowout, was decided much earlier. Clairton scored less than four minutes into the game when Tyler Boyd ran for a 5-yard touchdown.
When Armani Ford hooked up with Terrish Webb for a 21-yard touchdown in the final minute of the first half (the ensuing two-point pass from Ford to Webb made it 14-0), it was almost as if Clairton had the game in the bag.
The optimism derived from Clairton's dominance. You could see it on the field and you could see it statistically. The Bears were considerably faster and more physical than Dunmore, and outgained the Bucks, 432-115. The Bears held a 23-6 edge in first downs and possessed the ball nearly twice as much as Dunmore (30:23 to 17:37).
One of the primary storylines heading into the game was how the Clairton lines would hold up against a Dunmore squad that had linemen who looked like they should be on a Class AAAA team (the Bucks offensive line was led by players who were 6-foot-7, 285 pounds, and 6-5, 265).
Put to the test, the Clairton linemen passed with what might be considered an A-plus. Clairton rushed for 282 yards and held Dunmore to just 79 yards on the ground (less than 3 yards per carry). Boyd rushed for 117 yards on 20 carries, while the Clairton defense pitched its sixth shutout of the season.
"We don't worry about their size. We've got that Clairton pride. It doesn't matter who we play," Ford said.
Linebackers coach Eric Fusco added: "Our guys took it personally. We watched film and the first thing that jumped out was their size.
"They pushed people around. But our guys had a lot of fight in them. We beat them off the ball. Physically, we were overmatched as far as size, but we took it to them."
Ford was terrific once again, completing 10 of 18 passes for 150 yards. He scored on a 29-yard run in the fourth quarter. Ford finished the season with more than 2,000 yards passing and 25 touchdown passes (12 in the postseason).
The question now is, how much longer can Clairton keep this going? Boyd -- he finished his career with a WPIAL-record 117 touchdowns -- will be gone, as will Webb, Ford, Titus Howard, Devonte Harvey, Bryon Clifford and nearly a dozen other seniors. Nola might be mulling retirement, and Wade's future at Clairton is up in the air, as well.
"We talked about it [Friday night] at a staff meeting at the hotel," Fusco said. "We said what we've done might not set in until it's all over and we look back at it.
"We do lose a lot from this team and we have some unknown guys who will play next year. But some of those guys would be stars on other teams."hsfootball
First Published December 20, 2012 5:00 AM