Soon after Clairton had beaten Avonworth with another convincing victory in the Class A championship game to open the annual four-game WPIAL football extravaganza last week at Heinz Field, the Bears seemed to be conveying a simple thought.
As in who will be their next challenger?
Only Neshannock was a formidable opponent so far in a 13-0 season for Clairton, losing a wild 48-42 overtime affair in the WPIAL semifinals. At the same time, Avonworth was upsetting defending Pennsylvania champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, helping Clairton to displace the Trojans as the No. 1 ranked Class A team in the state.
Clairton has been focused on one goal (a state championship) since the season’s first snap, said its matter-of-fact coach, Wayne Wade, who has yet to hide his emotions over the Bears’ explosive season.
“We’re going out and execute offensively,” Wade said of a scheduled PIAA quarterfinal-round matchup with District 5 champion Berlin Brothersvalley on Friday night at Elizabeth Forward. “The kids are excited about it. That scoring record is right there, and we’re anxious to get it because I think it will give them overview of what we have accomplished.”
Clairton’s 46-14 victory over Avonworth in the WPIAL title game on Friday moved Clairton within 26 points of tying Jeannette’s state record of 860 in 2007. It also was the smallest margin of victory for the Bears this season outside of the six-point overtime win over Neshannock.
“Our guys know all about Clairton’s scores. They know how badly they’re beating teams,” Berlin Brothersvalley coach Doug Paul said. “You’ve just got to have the mentality of going out there and playing the game of your life. We’ve not seen a team like that before.”
But past District 5 champions, including Paul’s 2012 Mountaineers, were introduced to the Clairton championship tradition. Before last season, Clairton, which has won four PIAA titles since 2009, had shut out five consecutive D-5 champs in the PIAA first round from 2008-12, including Berlin Brothersvalley, 53-0, two years ago.
“It’s a credit to that community,” Paul said. “Just the fact that place takes pride in the community the way they do, from the youth programs all the way up to their high school. It’s a throwback tradition.”
Berlin Brothersvalley (12-1), with only a 38-27 loss to District 6 runner-up Portage marring its record, is led by junior running back Braden Fochtman, who has gained 3,875 yards and scored 53 touchdowns in two seasons for the Mountaineers.
He is the top rusher in District 5 this year with 1,822 yards on 176 carries (10.4 average) and 29 touchdowns.
“They have a couple of players that can hurt you big-time,” Wade said. “The running back (Fochtman) is one of them, for sure. He’s got good speed. The quarterback (Brentson Harding) is the same type of athlete.”
Harding, also a junior, has thrown for 876 yards and rushed for 501.
“We’re a fairly young team,” Paul said. “We start nine underclassmen on offense and seven on defense, so we’re excited about what we’ve accomplished this year. We’re probably still a year away from where we’d really like to be, but if you want to reach that goal, playing a game like this is the type of experience our guys need.”
Paul, like Wade at Clairton, is a product of Berlin Brothersvalley. He took over as coach at his alma mater in 2002 after the program had combined for a 1-26 record in the previous three seasons.
In 2004, Berlin Brothersvalley faced a Derrick Moye-led Rochester squad in the PIAA playoffs and was ahead 6-0 before falling to the Rams, 41-14.
Clairton’s spectacular season has been accentuated by the fact that the Bears have played with a roster short on names. At one point, they were practicing with just 22 healthy players.
Senior quarterback Ryan Williams passed for 301 yards and five touchdowns and sophomore running back Lamont Wade gained 142 yards rushing and intercepted four passes on defense to help Clairton defeat Avonworth last week and advance to the PIAA playoffs.
It was just the latest in a line of lopsided outcomes that went the Bears’ way.
Prediction: Clairton, 48-6.
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.