South Xtra: Consistent Bears chase No. 62
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The Clairton Bears have been as consistent as they come for nearly four full seasons, taking down 61 opponents in a row with dominant efforts that have had opponents nearly crying "uncle" after 48 minutes on the field with them.
Through all of this, faces have changed, as have roles. Some of the current players played big parts in getting this streak started in 2009, while others stepped up when called upon later on.
One win away from reaching its fifth consecutive PIAA Class A championship game, three-time defending champion Clairton will face a team that presents the Bears a major challenge, and it's that group of talented, unselfish players who will try to earn yet another field trip to Hershey.
Clairton (14-0) is set to play District 9 champion Port Allegany (13-0) in a semifinal Friday at Deer Lakes.
Port Allegany is led by senior Matt Bodamer. No quarterback in the history of Pennsylvania high school football has thrown for more yards than Bodamer, who has amassed 10,779 in four seasons as a starter.
This season, Bodamer has completed 215 of 301 passes for 3,758 yards and 51 touchdowns. Bodamer also leads the Gators in rushing with 832 yards and 13 touchdowns.
"He has good pocket presence," Clairton coach Tom Nola said. "He's pretty elusive and he has pretty good speed running the ball. We have to do a good job keeping him boxed in. And he throws the ball well. When he has time, he's very accurate. We just can't give him time."
Bodamer has a pair of receivers who are having huge seasons -- Tyce Miller (76 catches, 1,410 yards and 18 touchdowns) and Nick Conway (70 catches, 1,342 yards and 23 touchdowns).
Nola said the Bears have prepared for Bodamer similarly to the way they did for Sto-Rox's Lenny Williams in the WPIAL championship game. Williams was held in check in that game, and finished with 106 yards passing and 103 rushing.
Of course, Port Allegany must game plan for a dynamic player themselves. Clairton running back Tyler Boyd continued his terrific senior season by running for 227 yards and five touchdowns in a 53-0 quarterfinal win against Berlin-Brothersvalley. Boyd became the WPIAL's all-time leader in career touchdowns with 114.
"The last three years in the WPIAL and the state playoffs, all three years he's stepped up," said Nola.
Boyd will likely take on another role against Port Allegany, this after cornerback/wide receiver Titus Howard dislocated his left elbow in last week's game. Howard has been ruled out this week, and Nola said there's a good chance Boyd will move over from safety to make his first career start at cornerback. Boyd has played the position at 7-on-7 tournaments in the past.
"Not only is Tyler going to have to [make a big impact] on offense, but he'll have to do it on defense, too," Nola said. "He's a good enough athlete. He seems to cover just as well as anybody we've got."
The injury to Howard, a Pitt recruit, is a tough blow. A week earlier against Sto-Rox, the Bears lost two-way tackle Devonte Harvey to a season-ending knee injury. Most Class A teams lack quality depth, and Clairton is no different.
"That's hard on a Single-A team," Nola said. "That's two two-way starters, so [in effect] that's four starters. Our best offensive lineman and our best defensive back. But the other guys are just going to have to step up."
One player who continues to step up is senior quarterback Armani Ford. Coming into the season, Ford and Bryon Clifford were expected to share the quarterback duties. Ford, though, took firm control of the position early on and continues to get better. Ford played a part in six touchdowns the past two games (four passing, two rushing) and has thrown for 1,658 yards and 23 touchdowns for the season.
"He's doing great," Nola said. "Way beyond expectations."
This Clairton team expects nothing less than another state title. Two more wins, and the most consistent team you might ever see will have exactly that.
Here are the returning wrestlers from South Xtra area schools who qualified for the PIAA tournament last season, including their place finish in the WPIAL and PIAA or their record at the state tournament as well as last season's won-loss record and the weight class in which they competed:
Wt. Wrestler School Grade 2012 change
1. Yankees $37.7$195.4+418.2 percent
2. Mets $44.6$91.6+105.4 percent
3. Dodgers $44.8$173.3+286.8 percent
4. Angels $34.7$140.6+305.2 percent
5. Cubs $29.8$80.4+169.8 percent
Average $38.3$136.3+257.1 percent
26. Rays N/A $63.4N/A
27. Pirates $33.9$70.1+106.8 percent
28. Reds $35.9$80.3+123.7 percent
29. Royals $33.9$61.7+82.0 percent
30. Milwaukee $31.0$95.7+208.7 percent
Averages $32.5$84.0+146.0 percent
Source: Baseball-Reference (payroll estimates)
First Published December 6, 2012 12:00 am