Clairton: Ties record with 59th win in a row, has rematch vs. Sto-Rox in A final to break mark
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As he and his Clairton teammates congregated on the field after their game Friday night, Damond Flowers was handed a football.
The other players proceeded to form a tight bunch around each other about 5 yards away. When Flowers rolled the ball toward them, they fell quickly onto the cold turf as if they were bowling pins.
Their previous 59 opponents know the feeling.
Clairton added a monumental chapter to its storied run of success, tying the state record with its 59th win a row as the Bears defeated Neshannock, 37-7, in a WPIAL Class A semifinal at Chartiers-Houston.
The only other team in Pennsylvania history to reach the plateau was Central Bucks West (1997-2000).
Clairton (12-0) will break the record if it beats Sto-Rox (11-1) Friday in WPIAL championship. Clairton defeated Sto-Rox, 42-6, a year ago in the final. A victory would give the Bears their fifth consecutive title. The three-time defending PIAA champions also hold the nation's longest active winning streak.
"Words just can't even describe what [breaking the streak and winning another WPIAL title] would mean," said Clairton's do-it-all running back Tyler Boyd, a senior who suffered the only loss of his career the first game of his freshman season. "Everybody is going to find out about Clairton, not only our football team, but our community."
Boyd is right. A large crowd gathered for the game and reporters from The New York Times and USA Today were in attendance, a reminder that what Clairton is accomplishing is crossing the country.
"I'm happy to get this one over with," Clairton coach Tom Nola said. "There was a lot of media attention this week. A lot of TV, radio and newspaper people. I'm glad to have tied the record. It feels good."
Clairton's performance wasn't as dominant as many of the games that preceded it. It marked just the second game the Bears didn't win by at least 35 points, but when you're Clairton, playing your "B" game is good enough.
Quarterback Armani Ford was the unlikely star, throwing for a career-high four touchdowns to go along with 154 yards. Boyd, who was the clear focus of the Neshannock defense, ran for 115 yards and a touchdown after rushing for 532 and nine touchdowns in the first two playoff games. Bryon Clifford ran for 126 yards and booted a 30-yard field goal, a rare feat for a Bears team that isn't known for kicking.
"They were keying on Tyler, so the rest of us had to pick it up," Ford said.
Neshannock (10-2), which until this season had never won a playoff game, did not appear intimidated by Clairton. Playing in front of a large contingent of their fans, the Lancers made the Bears earn their yards, while not giving up many big plays.
"We were led by a big senior class that always showed a lot of effort and was competitive," Neshannock coach Frank Mozzocio said. "I thought we played well, but the ball just didn't bounce our way. But Clairton makes it that way. Their defense causes a lot of problems."
Clairton forced four turnovers and also recorded a safety.
As they almost always do, Clairton raced to an early lead and relied on its dynamic offense and airtight defense to maintain the lead throughout. After holding Neshannock to a three-and-out on the opening possession of the game, Clairton went 55 yards in four plays and went ahead when Boyd scooted to the outside and found the end zone from 6 yards out.
Early in the second quarter, Ford rolled to his right and threw across his body to find Terrish Webb, who made a late break on the ball for a 7-yard touchdown. Clairton tacked on another score midway through that quarter, as Titus Howard caught Ford's pass at the 10, made a move on two defenders and bullied his way into the end zone. Boyd's two-point conversion pass to Howard made it 20-0.
Neshannock gave itself some hope when quarterback Ernie Burkes completed his first pass of the game, finding Alex Welker down the right seam for a 49-yard scoring pass.
Clairton, however, wasted little time responding, as Ford tossed his third touchdown of the half, a 12-yard score on a tight end screen to Santeaun Sims.
For Clairton, it's a case of "one more win" for the record.
First Published November 17, 2012 12:00 am