It may be official. In fact, it is official. The supply of superlatives to describe what the Clairton Bears’ defense (including both first string and reserves) has accomplished these last trio of years is running lower than the supply of ice in the Arctic. They’ve put up some pretty remarkable numbers, given up practically nothing in terms of points, and have probably started to beg the question, “How long can/will this dominance continue?”
It’s an answer nobody really knows the answer to. But as Clairton’s defense continues to etch itself among the nastiest and most dominant in WPIAL history, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
Clairton makes its third consecutive PIAA championship game appearance and will face District 2 champion Taylor-Riverside for all the marbles in Class A Friday afternoon at HersheyPark Stadium, with kickoff slated for 2 p.m. The Bears face a Riverside team that has allowed 34 points in five playoff games, with three shutouts.
Clairton won the WPIAL’s 30th PIAA championship last year, defeating District 6 champion Bishop McCort, 15-3. The Bears are one of two 2009 PIAA champions that have reached Hershey to defend their title – LaSalle College, in AAAA is the other. A total of 21 teams have reached the PIAA finals after winning a state title the previous year, and such teams are 14-7 overall.
In making its third consecutive state finals appearance, Clairton joins a list of PIAA affiliates with such a distinction that include Berwick (1994-’97), Southern Columbia (1994-’96; 1998-’06), Central Bucks West (1997-’00), Mount Carmel Area (1998-’00), Strath Haven (1999-’02), West Allegheny (1999-’01) and Rochester (2000-’02).
Those are some impressive names of programs, each with their own unique histories and traditions and stories. And Clairton is no exception – winners of 580 football games, eight WPIAL championships and an all-time playoff record of 48-24 (.667), the Bears have certainly proven to be a traditional state powerhouse. And prior to the state championship playoff format, final rankings were determined based on a formula known as the “Saylor Rankings,” compiled from 1914 to 1987 by former Penn State professor Dr. Roger Saylor. Between 1927 to 1959, Clairton finished ranked in Dr. Saylor’s poll 12 times, including a #1 finish in 1942. The Bears went 10-0 that season.
Clairton’s present run is nothing short of remarkable. Since 2003, the Bears have posted an overall record of 93-15 (.861). They’ve played in five WPIAL championship games since 2004, winning four titles. Prior to 2008, Clairton hadn’t made much of a splash in the PIAA playoffs, only reaching the semifinals twice and losing both times (in 1989 to Keystone and 2006 to West Middlesex). But now, no one can keep the Bears from Hershey.
Defense has played a major role in Clairton’s run to three consecutive state finals appearances. Since 2008, Clairton has only allowed four opponents (Farrell ’08, Steel-High ’08, Laurel ’09, Rochster ’09) to score double-digit points in a game. The last time Clairton allowed a team to score more than 20 points against it – 2008 – in the state finals against Steel-High. At that time, Barack Obama only bore the title “President-elect.” The Farrell and Steel-High games were the first time Clairton had allowed consecutive opponents to score 20 points against it since 2005, when the Bears began the campaign allowing five consecutive opponents (Washington, Rochester, Duquense, Serra Catholic and Riverview) to score between 20 to 34 points. Clairton went 1-4 in that stretch.
Since the start of the 2008 season, Clairton has posted 26 shutouts and held 43 of 47 opponents to eight points or less. The Bears’ record in that span – a whopping 45-2 (.957)!
If you thought last year’s edition of the Clairton defense was ridiculously good – that unit (including first string and reserves) allowed a scant 61 points in 16 games, just 3.8 points per game. This year, the defense (including first string and reserves) has yielded even less – just 36 points (2.4 points per game). Only five teams have managed to score a single touchdown, and Farrell holds the distinction of scoring the most points on the orange and black’s brick wall unit – with a measley eight points.
Keying the Bears’ defensive efforts are Desimon Green (who has amassed more than 70 sacks the last three years), Marquis Norris (6’5, 325 pounds of man), Devante Gardlock, Carvan Thompson, Erik Walker, Devante Dockery, Brandon Small, Josh Page (team leader in INTs), Trenton Coles (a PIAA track champion), Dion Ellis and Tyler Boyd.
Offensively, Green leads the reins of the Bears’ offense, having thrown for 1,729 yards and 28 touchdowns while running for 642 yards and 13 more touchdowns. Backs Karvonn “Mud Puppy” Coles and Boyd have combined for more than 1,200 rushing yards between them and 18 rushing touchdowns. Page (997 yards, 17 TD), Trenton Coles (349 yards, 7 TD) and Bishop Neal (134 yards, 5 TD) are the primary receivers in the Bears’ aerial assault.
The Bears’ offensive unit is fronted by an athletic line that includes Thompson (6’1, 225), William Ingram (5’9, 225), Keith Craven (6’1, 208), Norris and Walker (6’2, 205). Neal (6’1, 195) is the tight end.
Clairton’s 2010 team has scored 710 points (47.3 points per game) – the second highest total ever in the WPIAL and fourth-highest total in state history. Clairton became the first PIAA affiliate with three consecutive season of 600+ points scored, posting a 612-point output in 2008 and 634 points last year. The Bears also rang up points in bunches in 2007 (506), 2006 (480) and 2004 (478).
Can Clairton make it two PIAA titles in a row? Find out Friday afternoon.
Josh Yohe, sportswriter for the McKeesport Daily News (a part of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review family of newspapers) helped contribute information appearing in this preview.