South Side makes biggest plays in Class A semifinal win over Clairton

Friday, November 17, 2023 | 10:45 PM

After a back-and-forth first half, South Side came out on the positive side of a sequence of plays midway through the third quarter that led to 14 straight points.

That third quarter swing killed all the momentum for No. 4 Clairton, as the top-seeded Rams remained undefeated and took a hard-fought 28-12 victory over the Bears at Peters Township’s Confluence Stadium on Friday night in the WPIAL Class A semifinals.

The Rams (13-0) advanced to their first finals since 2018 and are searching for the program’s third district title and its first since 1999. South Side will play No. 2 Fort Cherry (13-0), a 33-21 winner over No. 3 Bishop Canevin, at 11 a.m. next Friday at Acrisure Stadium.

“What a game,” South Side coach Luke Travelpiece said. “We knew Clairton was good, but holy cow, they gave us a fight. Every time they scored, we answered right back. We battled through some adversity. I thought our experience lifted us up in this one tonight.”

The Bears (10-3) are now 11-5 in the semifinal round since 2006 and had their 10-game winning streak snapped. Clairton was looking for its first championship game appearance since 2020 and its first title since 2019. The Bears have won 10 of their 14 WPIAL titles since 2006.

“It was a fight between two good teams,” Clairton coach Wayne Wade said. “There was a series of plays in the second half that did not go our way. You can’t make mistakes against a good team like South Side. It’s hard to prepare for a wing/triple option offense. We played their run game pretty well, but we had our eyes in the backfield, and they gashed us with some long passes.”

The Rams, who lost their previous three playoff games against the Bears, took their opening drive of the second half 71 yards on six plays, capped off by a 57-yard scoring strike to AC Corfield from Brody Almashy.

On the ensuing kickoff, Clairton’s Donte Wright appeared to score from 70-plus yards out, but an illegal blocking infraction was called at the 5-yard line and negated the touchdown.

Two plays later, the Bears fumbled at the 18-yard line. The Rams responded with an eight-play, all-run, 82-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard scoring run by Corfield on fourth-and-7.

“That was tough to overcome,” Wade said. “That killed us. They called the block at the 5-yard line, and it was an illegal clip. And then a couple of plays later, we put it on the ground. On their next drive, they just ran right at us and got a score. That was the momentum shift.”

Clairton’s final two drives resulted in turnovers on downs. After gaining 195 yards in the first half, the Bears only managed 67 yards in the final 24 minutes of play. South Side, meanwhile, was able to control the clock and chewed up enough time in the final quarter to solidify the semifinal victory.

“It’s pure excitement,” Corfield said. “We have been talking about getting to the finals since training camp. We are looking forward to the finals and Fort Cherry. The holes were there for me tonight, and we did a good job of taking what they gave us. We hurt them with the run and the pass.”

After the Rams were forced to punt on their opening drive, the Bears quickly grabbed a 6-0 lead on just four plays that covered 62 yards. After a 30-yard rush by Dion Pompey, Donte Wright found paydirt with a 24-yard rushing score. The two-point run was unsuccessful.

Trailing 6-0, South Side countered with a six-play drive that covered 60 yards. On the third play of the second quarter, Almashy scrambled and found a wide open Ryan Navarra in the middle of the field for a 36-yard touchdown pass. The Rams held a 7-6 lead after a successful PAT by Mateja Pavlovich.

Clairton patiently marched 13 plays on its next drive, 12 of which were runs, and took a 12-7 edge after a 7-yard touchdown run by Zae-Mear Correll. Pompey had 38 rushing yards on the drive.

Pompey finished with 112 yards on 15 carries for the Bears.

“Dion had a tremendous game for us,” Wade said. “Our main back (Drahcir Jones, eighth leading rusher in the WPIAL coming in) was in concussion protocol and couldn’t play. That changed a lot for our offense. But I thought Dion ran hard and was pretty good in between the tackles.”

The Rams took to the air in the final minutes of the second stanza. On the 12th play of a drive, Almashy rolled out right and found Corfield for a 13-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds remaining.

Pavlovich booted the extra point and the Rams carried a 14-12 lead into halftime over the Bears.

“Our defensive line made some adjustments, and I thought they battled through the first half,” Travelpiece said. “Our D-linemen are so strong, so physical and so quick. When we were finally able to hold Clairton’s offense in check in the second half, it was because of their play in the trenches.”

Corfield tallied 119 yards on the ground, added two catches for 70 yards and accounted for three touchdowns. Navarra finished with 69 rushing yards. Almashy showed his senior grit in the playoff contest, rushing for 58 yards, going 5 for 9 for 128 passing yards and throwing for three scores.

“Brody, our quarterback, is a gamer,” Travelpiece said. “When he was in eighth grade, he told me we should run the spread offense. I told him he would be the perfect fit in our wing-T offense. He improved every season. He now understands the offense, and he made some big checks for us at the line.”

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