PIAA football playoffs: 30 years in 30 days — North Allegheny, Clairton crowned champs in ’12
The PIAA had been hosting state playoffs in all but one fall high school sport since 1976. Soccer, volleyball, tennis, golf, cross country and field hockey all crowned state champions once the district playoffs concluded.
The lone exception to the fall state playoff slate was high school football.
It wasn’t until 1988 when PIAA officials finally pulled the trigger on the idea of having a yearly state football playoff.
From George Novak and Woodland Hills losing in a mud pit to Bob Palko and West Allegheny finding the third time really was the charm to Neil Walker and Pine-Richland competing in a heartbreaking overtime loss in a snowstorm and to Tyler Boyd and the golden Bears of Clairton winning four straight state championships.
There have been a lot of thrills and heartbreak in three decades of state championship football. Leading up to the 2018 state finals, the TribLIVE High School Sports Network will look back at how WPIAL teams have fared in the PIAA championships with 30 years in 30 days.
The Year: 2012
The Site: Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey
The Champs: North Allegheny, Cathedral Prep, Wyomissing, Clairton
The Headline: North Allegheny record breaking gold, Clairton streak continues while heartbreak for Quips
The Lowdown: Three WPIAL teams got offensive in Hershey as they combined for 97 points. One of the two district winners set a new PIAA scoring record, while the other capped off perhaps the greatest four-year run in Pennsylvania high school history.
North Allegheny made it a perfect 3 for 3 in state title games as it destroyed District 1 champion Coatesville, 63-28, in the Class AAAA finals.
For the Tigers, it was a perfect ending to a 16-0 season.
Before the game was nine minutes old, North Allegheny had built up a 21-0 lead on Skylar Cox’s 8-yard TD reception from Mack Leftwich followed by two defensive scores. Brendan Coniker picked up a fumble and went 80 yards for one score, and then Kevin Edwards scooped up another Red Raiders’ fumble and scored on a 52-yard recovery and run.
“Scoring twice on defense in the first half of the state championship game gives you some breathing room,” said Tigers coach Art Walker after the game. “I’m ecstatic for the defense, and ecstatic it was a team win with both sides of the ball chipping in.”
By halftime, North Allegheny was up 35-14 and the scoring kept coming in the second half by way of four more touchdowns.
Leftwich ended a great season with a monster title game performance. He connected on 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns, plus he rushed for 90 yards and a score.
Alex DeCiantis led the Tigers on the ground with 115 yards and three touchdowns.
North Allegheny amassed 456 total yards on offense and the 63 points scored is still a PIAA football championship game record.
• While winning four straight PIAA championships is not a record, (Southern Columbia won 5 straight between 2002 and 2006) only Berwick from 1994 through 1997 was able to match what Clairton did during their four-year golden run from 2009 through 2012.
The Bears fourth and final championship in that run came when they shut out District 2 champion Dunmore, 20-0.
Clairton quarterback Armani Ford went over 2,000 yards passing for the season by hitting on 10 of 18 passes for 150 yards.
The tone was set early. Penalties on the first possession forced the Bears back to their own 12-yard line, but Clairton got out of a first-and-35 hole thanks to three straight Ford completions. The drive ended with Tyler Boyd scoring his 117th career touchdown on a 5-yard run.
Boyd, the future Pitt and Cincinnati Bengals star, played with a dislocated shoulder suffered in the Bears’ 44-12 victory over Port Allegany in the PIAA semifinals the week before. The injury limited Boyd, who still ended up with 117 yards on 20 carries.
“My shoulder is killing me,” Boyd said afterward. “I was cool coming into the game, but I kept taking hits.”
Clairton added to the lead with under a minute left in the first half when Ford hit Terrish Webb on a 21-yard scoring pass.
Ford put the exclamation point on the scoring with a 29-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run.
The state crown ended an incredible career for the Clairton seniors who won four WPIAL and PIAA championships and finished with a record of 63-1 after losing the season opener to Laurel in their freshman season.
The Bears would add three more wins the next season for a 66-game win streak that to this day is still a WPIAL and PIAA record.
• The record-setting golden performances for WPIAL teams in the 2012 finals ended in the Class AA title game where Aliquippa was edged by Wyomissing, 17-14.
Aliquippa did a lot of things right on both sides of the ball, but it wasn’t enough.
The Quips’ defense forced four turnovers, and the offense drove the ball inside the Wyomissing 20-yard line seven times. Ufortunately for Aliquippa, those drives ended with only two scores.
The Quips outgained the Spartans, 346-253, but had driven to the Wyomissing 19-, 9-, 7- and 1-yard line only to come away empty each time.
Dravon Henry scored a pair of first-half touchdowns on runs of 1 and 10 yards as Aliquippa was up 14-7 at halftime.
The Spartans came back, though, on a title game record 52-yard field goal by Jonah Bowman in the third quarter that cut the Quips’ lead to four. Then Mason Smith scored his second touchdown of the game on a 36-yard run with 42 seconds left to give Wyomissing its first PIAA championship.
Terry Swanson led Aliquippa with 126 yards on 14 carries while Henry had 123 yards on 22 totes.
Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.