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Let’s start this week’s WPIAL Game of the Week preview with a little trivia question: Who were the last two teams to beat Clairton in section play?
Monessen, of course, and yeah, that’s the easy one. The Greyhounds ended Clairton’s 66-game win streak in 2013.
The only other team to beat the Bears in section play in the last five seasons? This week’s opponent, Imani Christian. Imani beat the Bears in 2017 on the way to the WPIAL championship game.
Sandwiched in between Clairton’s section loses were three WPIAL Championships, and the Bears are probably the only team where section loses are a big deal. They have a combined record of 115-6 from 2009-2016.
But don’t think this is a revenge game. Sure, the game is circled and the teams are competing for a playoff spot, but a new year and a new team have brought a renewed focus for the Bears. After an uncharacteristic 9-3 2017 season, Clairton enters the week 5-0 and tied for the top spot in Class 1A Eastern Conference.
The Bears have one of the top defenses in the WPIAL and a balanced offense that is averaging 31 points per game.
“We graduated a lot of seniors that lost that game last season,” said Clairton coach Wayne Wade. “For some of the kids it’s kind of a revenge thing, but we preach all the time about winning at home. It’s in the back of some of their minds, but it’s a new group. We just going out to play the best (2018-2019) season they can, and be the best team this year. It’s the next team up.”
The next team up is also undefeated and is looking to return to the WPIAL Class A Championship after losing to Jeannette last November at Robert Morris.
The Saints bring with them an offense that is averaging over 300 yards per game passing and a star receiver in Rahmon Hart, Jr., who already has 11 touchdowns.
The 6-foot-3 receiver (Ball State) has 35 receptions for 801 yards (that’s 23 yards per catch) and is one of seven receivers who have caught a pass from Saints quarterback Israel Reed (74 of 125 for 1,524 yards with 17 touchdowns and 7 interceptions).
But Clairton’s hallmark this season has been defense. The Bears have allowed points in just one game, and rank behind only Aliquippa in terms of scoring defense.
“I think our practices are very competitive,” said Wade. “When you get an Aaron Thompson (31 rushing yards this season), a Dom Solomon (six receptions for 101 yards) or a Keinlein Ogletree (four receptions 183 yards) going one-on-ones for 10 or 15 minutes, it’s very competitive. In our practices we’re getting true looks from those types of athletes that Imani will present. I don’t think Imani has anything tougher on their team than we have on our team.”
Wade said the emphasis for this defense is to play solid schematically and be able to identify what aspect of an opponent’s offense they want to try and limit.
The Bears have a plan in place for Hart but Wade said both man-to-man and zone coverages are a possibility and the defensive scheme doesn’t change too much from week to week based solely on the opponent.
Offensively, Clairton is not the team from a few season’s back that is averaging over 50 points per game, but the Bears bring a balance of talent both rushing and passing that has been more than enough based on the way the defense is playing.
Brendan Parsons doesn’t pass a ton (42 attempts through five games) but he has six touchdowns and is able to keep a defense honest.
A committee of running backs is led by Taevon Thompson (39 rushes, 210 yards) and Dontae Sanders (19 rushes, 121 yards) while Parsons also presents a threat to get out of the pocket.
“It’s all about execution,” Wade said. “Everyone coming out of the huddle knowing their job. The linemen knowing who to block, what angle to take, knowing that guy isn’t going to be where he is standing. Receivers running their routes at the right depth, running backs running through the right holes.
“I think more of an issue with us is that we’ve had three offensive coordinators in the last five years.”
Shawn Liotta – former head coach of the Erie Express in the CIFL – and Loran Cooley, who previously coached at Plum and Gateway, have given way to Remondo Williams who is in his first coaching stint. Wade said the roster has led to Williams and the offense being more balanced.
The lack of a star is probably the biggest difference between this year’s Clairton team and in year’s past. The word star may be a bit misleading, but Lamont Wade, Tyler Boyd and Aaron Matthews are not walking through the locker room this season.
Wade said he feels comfortable with these players, but has had to adjust his coaching style based on the roster.
“It was probably a little harder coaching the other guys,” said Wade. “But it’s kind of mixed, because you say that, but then when you get Tyler or Lamont the ball, they always make something happen. But preparing for that week, you really want to get other plays involved.
“But now, all of our plays work. All of our plays are good for all of our kids, so let’s go make it work. We still have that type of talent. I’ll line up Dom Solomon or Aaron Thompson against anybody in the WPIAL, let’s play.”