Those final 67 seconds have been replaying over and over again in Farrell football coach Jarrett Samuels’ mind the past year, not to mention in the collective consciousness of his District 10-champion Steelers players.
With just 1:07 left on the fourth-quarter clock, Farrell quarterback Dan Odem seemingly punched his team’s ticket to the 2008 PIAA Class A championship game when the junior connected with Kevin Brodie for an 18-yard touchdown pass to give the Steelers an 18-14 lead over Clairton.
But just when their darkest hour was seemingly at hand, the Bears embarked on a three-play drive that many around the program have dubbed the greatest in school history.
After connecting with wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon for an 18-yard completion on the first play, Clairton quarterback Troy Webb somehow found Lance Meade with a near-miraculous 51-yard pass.
On the ensuing play, running back Deontae Howard leveled a Farrell defender en route to a 6-yard touchdown run and a 24-21 victory. The Bears were off to Hershey to play in the title game.
“These guys have been thinking about that the whole offseason,” Samuels said Thursday. “That’s been our rally cry since camp.”
District 10 champion Farrell (14-0) will get a shot at a rematch when it faces two-time defending WPIAL champion Clairton (13-1) in another PIAA semifinal contest tonight at Slippery Rock University, again with a shot at state supremacy on the line.
“We wanted them to be there,” Samuels said. “We wanted the chance to go out there and beat those guys and get some redemption.”
The Bears have been looking at last year’s contest in a different light.
“They know Farrell’s a good team,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “We beat them last year. That gave us some good confidence.”
Defensive coordinator Mike LeDonne also is cognizant of the fact that, if the Bears are to again vanquish the Steelers, they will have to control Odem, Farrell’s now senior signal caller.
“It’s hard to prepare for (him) because he’s spontaneous,” Nola said. “He’ll take off at any time. We’ve just got to make sure we keep him in the pocket.”
As in last season’s matchup, doing so won’t be easy. Odem runs Farrell’s balanced offensive attack well and routinely finds wide receivers Dion Ellam and Preston Jefferson along with slot back Kevin Brodie in a high-octane passing attack.
“He’s a three-year starter,” Samuels said of the 6-foot-1, 168-pound Odem. “He’s been pretty solid for us all year. Everything we do revolves around him.”
Aside from Odem’s scrambling capability, the Steelers’ running attack is led by the punishing presence of 6-foot, 195-pound junior tailback Jamar Whitman and senior fullback Ron Jackson.
“We can’t change our whole game plan,” Samuels said. “This is the best defense we’re going to see all year.”
The Bears defense now has accumulated eight shutouts this season and has allowed just 13 points in five playoff games.
“We’re just trying to take it one step at a time,” Nola said of his team, which defeated Conemaugh Township 46-0 in its state quarterfinal contest last week.
The next step tonight could prove special for Howard, who has 2,039 yards rushing this season.
With 103 yards from scrimmage against Farrell, Howard will eclipse the school record for rushing yards in a season, which is owned by his hero, former Bears star Dana Brown, who rushed for 2,141 yards in 2004.
“This kid is a 2,000-yard rusher with over 40 touchdowns,” Samuels said. “He can be explosive. We’ve just got to tackle him.”
Farrell’s key to containing the Bears’ potent attack will be the ability of standout defensive end Devonte Goudy (6-0, 220) and tackle Ervin Hill (6-0, 242) to control the line of scrimmage.
“Our front seven’s got to do the job,” Samuels said. “We’ve got to stop these guys from running the ball. I’m hoping all these guys are focused and they’re bringing their A-game, because that’s what we’re going to need to pull off the upset.”