NEW CASTLE —
Neshannock High football has a date with perfection.
The Lancers will tango with unbeaten Clairton in the semifinals of the WPIAL Class A playoffs at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Chartiers-Houston High School.
Clairton (11-0) has won four straight WPIAL and state titles and owns of the nation’s longest-active winning streak with 58. With a victory over the Lancers, the Bears would tie the state record of 59 consecutive wins set by Central Bucks West in the late1990s.
“It’s just one of our goals,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “We’re just trying to get to the next number.”
It was a tough road to the semifinals for Neshannock, which edged Monessen last week, 24-21. A 1-yard touchdown run by Lancers quarterback Ernie Burkes put Neshannock ahead with 4 seconds remaining. The Bears beat Monessen 52-7 earlier this season. The 13th-seeded Lancers (10-1) achieved their first WPIAL playoff victory in program history a week prior with a 42-14 decision over Jefferson-Morgan.
Clairton has handled its first two playoff rounds with an ease that is synonymous with its current winning streak. The top-seeded Bears set the stage for their fourth consecutive WPIAL title by cruising to a 58-6 win over Frazier in the opening round. Clairton followed that performance by shutting out Black Hills Conference rival Brentwood in the quarterfinals, 39-0.
The winner of this game and the winner of the Sto-Rox-North Catholic will meet at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 23 at Heinz Field for the WPIAL Class A championship. Neshannock holds victories against both North Catholic and Sto-Rox this season.
THE KILLER T’S
Clairton features three of the best athletes in the country, Titus Howard, Tyler Boyd and Terrish Webb. Nicknamed “The Killer T’s” for their first names, the three have made the Bears offense nearly unstoppable as Clairton averages 48 points a game. The best of the bunch is Boyd, a running back with breakaway speed who averages a whopping 14 yards a carry while scoring 38 touchdowns. The senior has been actively recruited by Notre Dame, Pitt and Virginia Tech.
“He runs like Marcus Allen used to run,” Nola said. “He sort of glides through the hole. He knows when to cut and doesn’t have to slow down as he’s moving.”
Boyd, who has 1,850 on 129 carries, has drawn similar comparisons from Neshannock coach Fred Mozzocio.
“With Boyd, he'll start off one way and then he'll completely reverse field. He’ll run to the opposite side of the field and take the cut back lanes,” Mozzocio said. “You have to defense the whole field with him and maintain gap integrity. Your line has to stay at home on the back-side.”
If a defense manages to contain Boyd, there still are two other players in the equation. On a predominately running team, Howard still makes an impact receiving the ball. The receiver, who is committed to Pitt, is second on the team in receiving yards with 416 on just 16 catches. He is also a threat to run the football with 189 yards on 11 tries.
“We've seen him jump up and make catches. He has vertical leap of about 48 inches or so,” Mozzocio said “He can get up in the air.”
The third member of the trio is Webb. Similar to Howard, he is a dual-threat running and catching the football. Webb paces the Bears with 487 yards on 21 catches from quarterback Armani Ford. He has also rushed the ball for 370 yards on 13 carries for a staggering average of 28.5 yards per carry.
Burkes is the star for the Lancers on offense. The junior quarterback leads all county throwers with 1,485 yards on 111 of 172 attempts. He ranks seventh in the county in rushing with 787 yards on 87 carries.
“He does everything well. He runs the ball and manages the offense well,” Nola said. “He’s thrown for 1,500 yards this season, so he can definitely throw the ball. He's a good player.”
Neshannock uses a lot of spread formations and a no-huddle offense that has given teams fits. The Lancers have averaged 39 points a game this season. Nola believes his team is ready for what the Lancers will do.
“We've had some teams go no-huddle and spread,” Nola said. “It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. We'll be ready for it.”
Another player the Bears will have to account for is sophomore running back Eli Owens. A 46-yard touchdown run from Owens gave the Lancers the lead in the third quarter last week against Monessen. He leads the team and is second in the county with 1,157 rushing yards on 152 carries.
“He's a good, hard runner,” Nola said. “They try to use different kinds of motions with him. He's more of an in-between the tackles runner.”
Receivers John Conglose and Alex Welker have been a dynamic duo for Neshannock all season. Welker leads all county receivers with 641 yards on 37 receptions. Conglose is right behind with 595 yards on 40 receptions. Conglose made a big play last week on Neshannock’s final scoring drive, a fourth-down reception to the Monessen 1 that set-up the Burkes touchdown.
“They’re very scrappy,” Nola said. “They do a lot of different things on offense that can give teams trouble.”
The defenses for both teams are often overlooked.
Neshannock’s allows 16 points per game. It has gotten timely play from Owens at cornerback, with two interceptions in crucial moments in the past two games.
“They try to change fronts on you and do some different things,” Nola said. “They really try to confuse the offense. It'll be a challenge.”
Mozzocio knows the Bears’ success starts on defense.
“Everything that happens for Clairton is created by the defensive side of the football,” Mozzocio said. “You see the big scores and big wins, it’s because of their stars on the defensive side.”
Not surprising, “The Killer T’s” again are the focal point for a defense that only has allowed six points per game. Howard provides high-caliber play from the cornerback position.
“He's a great cover corner,” Mozzocio said. “He'll get in your face and pressure. Teams have a hard time getting away from him jamming at the line. He’s known for playing great man coverage.”
NEW CASTLE —
Neshannock High football has a date with perfection.
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