PIAA Class A semifinals: Clairton vs. Port Allegany
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Clairton has the longest winning streak in the country and is two wins away from becoming only the third team in Pennsylvania history to win four consecutive PIAA titles.
But just in case this team needs some extra motivation, Clairton finds it this week by knowing it will face the most prolific passer in state history. And the thought of it has the Bears salivating.
Clairton (14-0) plays in the PIAA Class A semifinals tonight against Port Allegany (14-0), a District 9 team from McKean County not far from the New York/Pennsylvania border. The Gators feature record-breaking quarterback Matt Bodamer.
A 6-foot, 180-pound senior, Bodamer is the all-time leading passer in Pennsylvania with 10,755 yards and also the state leader in career touchdown passes with 136. His father, Mike, is Port Allegany's coach.
"This gives us more motivation because we know they're a passing team," said Terrish Webb, a senior defensive back for Clairton. "We actually like playing against passing teams because we don't see that many and it gives us more of an opportunity to show what we have."
Like the 61-game winning streak hasn't shown enough?
"When they pass a lot, we can show how our defensive backs are real athletic and how we don't let receivers catch," Webb said.
Clairton, though, will be without one of its top defensive backs. Titus Howard, a senior and a Pitt recruit, will not play because of a dislocated elbow. If Clairton wins, Howard might play in the PIAA championship game. In Howard's absence, Clairton wll probably move star senior Tyler Boyd from safety to cornerback.
"We haven't faced anything like this team this year, but I'm not worried," Webb said. "We're actually excited for this game, moreso than others because it's the game before the state championship, and it's a passing team."
Bodamer has been a four-year starter and for his career has completed 631 of 966 passes. This season, he has completed 215 of 301 (71 percent) for 3,758 yards and 51 touchdowns. He is only 65 yards and one touchdown pass away from two other state single-season records.
But Bodamer also is an adept runner. He has 832 yards on 124 carries this season and 3,206 on 452 attempts for his career.
"I would say keeping him upright is a key for us, but he has been so good with running," Mike Bodamer said. "When he feels pressure or if he sees any lanes, he's very good at taking off with the ball. He's smart enough not to take big hits, either. Clairton's pressure is definitely a concern, but we've seen a lot of pressure from a lot of teams, so it's something we're pretty used to."
Matt Bodamer also plays defensive back and has four defensive touchdowns this season -- two on interception returns and two on fumble recovery returns.
Despite his success and statistics, Bodamer is not being recruited much by colleges. Mike Bodamer believes some colleges stereotype his son because of where Port Allegany plays. The Port Allegany district draws students from two rural counties -- McKean and Potter, and District 9 is not exactly known as a hotbed for talent.
"Cornell was his No. 1 choice, but I guess they're bringing in a kid from Texas," Mike Bodamer said. "College is pretty much up in the air as far as looking for any scholarship offers.
"Where we play, a lot of colleges have shied away because they think we don't have a lot of competition. Maybe that's a little true, but until you see him play ... he's done everything he has needed to do.
"As the year has gone on, he has played better as the competition has gotten better. Last week against Sharpsville, he had 240 yards passing and another 100 running. When the competition has been there, he has stepped it up."
But even Mike Bodamer acknowledges his team has seen nothing like Clairton's talent. The Bears are three-time defending PIAA champions and are hoping to join Berwick and Southern Columbia as the only Pennsylvania teams to win four in a row. Berwick won four from 1994-97 and Southern Columbia five from 2002-06.
"Nobody in the entire state gives us a chance, and rightfully so," Mike Bodamer said. "Clairton has won 61 in a row and three straight titles. We'll go in, use our up-tempo, no-huddle offense, try to push the ball and see what happens.
"I think our kids realize they are extreme underdogs. We have been honest with them. We told them we have to play pretty much a perfect game to have a chance. ... But sometimes when you really don't have too many cares or worries and you just go out and play, sometimes good things happen."
First Published December 7, 2012 12:00 am