Varsity Xtra: An undefeated trilogy?
Clairton's Dakota Halcomb kisses the PIAA Class A trophy in 2011. The Bears are riding a 55-game winning streak.
Aliquippa's Dravon Henry picks up a first down against Beaver Falls last week.
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With victories tonight, the Clairton and Aliquippa football teams will author the perfect ending to their undefeated stories.
But it would be a trilogy.
Clairton and Aliquippa are trying to go undefeated in the regular season for the third consecutive year. Clairton plays host to Imani Christian; Aliquippa plays at home against Beaver.
To put the accomplishments of Clairton and Aliquippa into the perfect perspective, consider the WPIAL started playing football in the early 1900s. Since then, only nine teams have had three consecutive years with undefeated and untied records in the regular season. The first was Greensburg from 1913-15. The last was Woodland Hills, which had four consecutive perfect regular seasons from 1999-2002.
Also, consider that 71 of the 125 teams playing WPIAL football this season don't have three perfect regular seasons in their school history. Twenty-four teams never have had an undefeated regular season.
Clairton and Aliquippa are no strangers to perfect regular seasons. Aliquippa is second on the WPIAL all-time list with 13; Clairton is third with 11. Jeannette is first with 16. But don't think that a perfect record is lost on these two teams.
"I just mentioned to our kids the other day about it," said Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac. "I told them 13 had done it and they could be the 14th at Aliquippa. That's some motivation for you.
"Besides all the other reasons, it really is an accomplishment. Plus, it's not really an easy thing to do."
The record for consecutive undefeated and untied regular seasons is six by Braddock from 1954-59. Braddock also had a 56-game unbeaten streak in the 1950s (there was a tie during the streak). With a win tonight, Clairton will stretch its winning streak to 56 games.
Clairton coach Tom Nola said: "I think every team out there would like to go undefeated in the regular season and go into the playoffs as a conference champion. I know it can't always happen."
The funny thing about Clairton and Aliquippa is that one of them would not be undefeated if the WPIAL didn't change how it schedules football seasons.
In the past, the WPIAL scheduled all games for teams except the season opener. Teams were free to play any opponent they wanted in the opener, in state or out of state. Aliquippa and Clairton were in serious discussions about playing each other in the opener this season. Then, for the first time, the WPIAL decided it would start conference play the first week of the season and schedule every game for teams, including the season opener.
Thus, the Clairton vs. Aliquippa "dream game" was off.
"It would've been interesting," Zmijanac said. "But the truth is, it wouldn't have proven anything. It might have been too hard of a game for both teams to play at the beginning of the year.
"But it would've been fun."
Besides Clairton and Aliquippa, six other WPIAL teams head into regular-season finales tonight with undefeated records: North Allegheny, Thomas Jefferson, West Mifflin, South Fayette, Washington and Beaver. West Mifflin plays at Thomas Jefferson in a Class AAA showdown; Beaver plays at Aliquippa.
"Honestly, after you've gone undefeated before, I really don't believe it's that big," said Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak.
"I would say that I don't think anyone at Clairton and Aliquippa is impressed that they're undefeated. I think that's the expectation. For probably both of those teams, anything less than a 16-0 season isn't going to be a successful year."
Thomas Jefferson has seven undefeated regular seasons, five under Cherpak. While going undefeated might not be that big of a deal for some schools, it is for others, like Washington. The Little Prexies are 8-0 and have a chance to finish undefeated for the first time since '01. West Mifflin has been undefeated only one time in school history.
"I think this is really big for us and our community," said Washington coach Mike Bosnic. "I think it's a renewal of pride in Wash High football this year."
Washington quarterback Josh Wise said: "Going undefeated is very big. It's actually one of our goals. An undefeated regular season was our first goal. Then the WPIAL championship and then, hopefully, a state championship."
While winning WPIAL and PIAA championships with an undefeated record is the ultimate, everyone from players to coaches will tell you going undefeated in just the regular season is not easy, especially in the larger classifications.
Is the key a staunch defense? A standout quarterback? A talented running back?
"I think you have to be fortunate," said Zmijanac. "I don't know if I'd call it luck. But to go undefeated, you have to not get that horrible call at a bad time from the officials. You have to take care of the ball. You have to hope when you play a game against a team that you're better than it isn't played in a driving rainstorm.
"Injuries, or the lack thereof, also play a big part, especially at small schools. I'm sure if Clairton lost two or three of their best players or we lost two or three of ours, it would be a real struggle."
Years ago, the WPIAL regular season consisted of 10 games. But now it's only a nine-game regular season. Still, since '90, the only WPIAL teams to go undefeated in three consecutive regular seasons are Connellsville (1990-92), Waynesburg ('98-2000) and Woodland Hills ('99-'02).
"I guess some things have to go your way to be undefeated," Nola said. "But, obviously, you have to have the players. Nobody can do this without the players. We've had such good players the last five or six years, just like Aliquippa."
Aliquippa and Clairton are trying to become the 10th and 11th teams in the history of the WPIAL to go through three regular seasons with an undefeated and untied record. Here are the other nine:
Streak: School, Years
6: Braddock, 1954-59
4: Woodland Hills, 1999-2002
3: Greensburg, 1913-15
3: Chartiers-Houston, 1970-72
3: Kiski Area, 1970-72
3: Duquesne, 1982-84
3: North Hills, 1985-87
3: Connellsville, 1990-92
3 Waynesburg 1998-2000
First Published October 26, 2012 12:00 am