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I’m Matt Popchock, and I’m just getting started.
Clairton head football coach Wayne Wade says: Despite the regime change at that school this year, he has tried to preserve many of Tom Nola’s routines in the interest of maintaining the team’s winning habits:
POPCHOCK SAYS: While the Bears maintain their winning habits, the only thing preventing them from collecting a fifth state championship in six years is bad ones. Clairton embarrassed Monessen on homecoming night at Memorial Stadium in Week 8, though if I were rival coach Andy Pacak, I’d be more embarrassed by my team’s behavior than the 60-0 final score. Still, nobody, including Wade, should get a free pass for pitching a tent on that three-ring circus.
He was not above delaying the game noticeably to haggle with an official over one personal foul against his team. Both teams racked up a few of those, just as I imagined they might in a game that had such a rancorous buildup. When a team can’t be humble enough in victory to keep its collective mouth shut and stay out of trouble, its coach has to share responsibility. In Wade’s defense, however, the Bears weren’t the ones who let the game get out of hand.
Monessen lineman Rashawn Ford was ejected for getting so angry about a personal foul called against him that he threw his helmet at an official. Of all the strange and classless behaviors I’ve seen in high school sports, that one ranks pretty high on my [excrement] list. It’s fair to say that officiating crew made a commendable effort to keep both teams under their thumbs, but it’s also fair to say there was no synergy regarding clock management, and they didn’t allow the first half of a 7:00 game that was effectively over after the first quarter to wrap up until 8:30. I wish I were making that up.
I don’t wish any team a lack of prosperity, but perhaps it’s for Ford’s best that Monessen’s loss, coupled with Springdale’s upset of Greensburg Central Catholic, kept the Greyhounds out of the postseason. If he were my player, he wouldn’t play the rest of the year after that incident. For all the abuse officials take, it would do Pacak good to set an example should the situation arise again.
In the famous words of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, success is a lousy teacher because it seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose. We now know that the 2014 Clairton Bears are the highest-scoring team in WPIAL regular season history. But we won’t know what that team is really made of until it’s time to go to Hershey.
However, there is something we can all learn from this perfunctory beatdown by the Bears: If you yield to them the psychological edge, you might as well go home. Ford’s ejection was the tip of the iceberg. The Greyhounds were bobbling kick returns, missing passes and dropping passes all night. It was easy to tell that once Clairton got on the board early, the Bears were completely inside their heads.
It seems the only chance any forthcoming opponent has of beating the Bears would be to take them out of their comfort zone. This means stacking the box and making them throw the football. It also means having a more balanced offensive strategy than the one the Hounds employed. Furthermore, it means winning battles on long down-and-distance situations and not letting them overcome those personal fouls so easily.
Above all, it means keeping the game within reach for more than just a couple possessions.
(Good luck with that, by the way.)
Clairton sophomore tailback Lamont Wade says: Being part of the team that failed to extend Clairton’s streak of WPIAL Class A Final appearances fueled him to get better this season:
POPCHOCK SAYS: I was there originally to check out junior athlete Aaron Mathews, who is very fond of Pitt after visiting the school this past offseason. Mathews contributed a 33-yard touchdown run, but this particular Friday night spectacle was really “The Lamont Wade Show.”
Wade amassed well over 100 yards by halftime, and it took all of one play–an 85-yard touchdown, no less–for him to top 200. He scored three times against Monessen, and his 64 total carries entering Week 9 are the fewest by any 1,000-yard rusher in the WPIAL. He now ranks No. 6 in the district with 1,197 yards on the ground and has 17 touchdown runs in all.
He’s quick and elusive, and he hits gaps with the greatest of ease. Like the rest of his team, he hasn’t had a true litmus test yet this season, and, inevitably, he’ll have to hit the weight room to succeed at the next level. But if Division I recruiters were knocking on Mathews’ door, then talking to Wade was bound to be on their to-do list. Sure enough, the latter holds offers from Pitt, West Virginia and Temple already. Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd, who was in the crowd last Friday, had to be impressed with his performance.
The talent in the WPIAL isn’t as cutting-edge as it once was; to wit, some say Pitt, especially under Dave Wannstedt, has made the mistake of overvaluing local players. Nevertheless, building a Panther pipeline to Clairton wouldn’t be a bad idea.
In the meantime, with all the NFL scouts I saw popping up at Heinz Field recently, Pittsburghers had better enjoy the excellence of Boyd while they still can.
Speaking of the hometown college football team, the POPCHOCK ON PREPS High School Football Game of the Week for Week 9 centers on the Pitt commit so nice I’m going to see him twice.
Sarge Alberts Stadium is my final regular season destination, as Central Valley (7-0, 8-0), featuring lethal weapon Jordan Whitehead, tries to settle a score with Parkway Conference rival West Allegheny (7-0, 8-0) at 7:30 p.m. EDT tonight after bowing to Bob Palko’s Indians in last year’s WPIAL Class AAA Final. The game, a collision of two top-5 teams in the PA Football News PIAA Class AAA rankings, can be seen on ROOT Sports.
The top skill position player in the WPIAL will be a Panther. As of now, that is, literally, written in ink; Whitehead signed his financial papers and plans to enroll in January. Also as of now, Whitehead ranks among the top ten scorers in the district with 17 total TDs.
Remember when I talked to him at the beginning of his ongoing senior campaign about what he wanted to do to become a better player? I do:
Of course, being surrounded by so much talent, albeit less heralded talent, helps them both. Oh, and how about that time I spoke with Lyons about his goals for Whitehead this season? Yep, I remember that too:
Besides, it could just be really entertaining.
The Indians outlasted WPIAL Class AAAA runner-up Woodland Hills in a pretty entertaining game a couple weeks ago, 42-41 in overtime. In fact, it was probably the premier game of the entire 2014 WPIAL regular season. Athlon Sports, in its second annual U.S. high school football preview issue, hailed the matchup as one of the best ones in all of Pennsylvania this season, and in no way did either team disappoint.
West Allegheny ranks fourth in the WPIAL in scoring offense at 48.1 points per game, right behind the Warriors. Point blank, they win as a team. Palko’s wildcat offense builds so much momentum it’s darn near impossible to stop, and quarterback Andrew Koester, a St. Francis (Pa.) commit, has introduced more balance than before. For Central Valley’s defense, in which Whitehead thrives as a shutdown corner (which is why Pitt is high on him), it won’t be about how many stops they can get. It’ll be about when they can get them.
Koester has thrown 13 TDs against just two picks, and he needs just 26 more passing yards to reach the 1,000 plateau. Key WPIAL championship players Chayse Dillon and Armand Dellovade, along with relatively new role players Terence Stephens and Whitney White, have combined for over 1,300 yards rushing.
When a clever coach (and all-around good guy) like Palko is calling the shots, one never knows who’s going to get the ball. All we know is you had better keep an eye on it.
I’m Matt Popchock, and that’s all she wrote. Enjoy your game, and I’ll see you in the playoffs!