Clairton will be making their sixth trip to Hershey in the past seven years. The Bears have won four state championships in this recent run of success and will be looking to add to their school's impressive legacy. Bishop Guilfoyle just won their first district championship since 1987, and will be making their first ever trip to Hershey. Despite these differences, it seemed like these schools have been on a 15 week collision course to meet each other in this very game.
Bishop Guilfoyle has undergone a remarkable turnaround in recent seasons. After a 1-8 record in 2011 when the current senior were freshmen, the team is now 15-0 playing for a state championship. The job Head Coach Justin Wheeler has done at Bishop Guilfoyle has been nothing short of outstanding, and he has really restored pride to this program. The confidence this team plays with every Friday starts with him, and he brings a certain energy to the mix.
Obviously any coach needs the horses to make it work, and this Guilfoyle team certainly has them. The Marauders have a potent offense highlighted by a strong running game led by a big and physical offensive line. Sam McCloskey has led the attack all year long, and has posted 2,111 yards and 40 rushing touchdowns. The 5'10" 185 pound senior also has hauled in 17 receptions for 385 yards and 4 scores. McCloskey will be taking his talents to Division One Lehigh next Fall. The other key member of the Bishop Guilfoyle attack is the Villanova-bound, Brandon Chadbourn. The senior play-caller has 1,052 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on the year. He is not a traditional drop back passer, but has the arm to keep teams honest with 1,499 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. The Guilfoyle offense will need both of these players to be on their A game on Friday night.
Bishop Guilfoyle has other offensive threats besides the big two. Tight end Matt Gormley leads the team with 428 receiving yards and 7 scores. They can turn to a short yardage back like DJ Kitt when they need to, and they also have Evan Chadbourn and Sam Keating on the outside leading the receiving corps. Make no mistake about it, Guilfoyle wants to live off of McCloskey and Chadbourn running around making plays, but they have other options if need be.
Clairton is in a familiar place. The Bears have been accustomed to playing the Friday afternoon championship in Chocolate town, and despite a one year absence, they are back at it in full force in 2014. Wayne Wade inherited a well oiled machine from previous head coach, Tom Nola, and kept things rolling....and then some. All the 2014 Bears have done is break the state's all-time team scoring mark in a season, and they have done it with one of the most explosive and diverse offenses this school has ever produced.
When you think Clairton football, you naturally think unbelievable running game, and of course - Clairton has that again. The Bears are paced by a sensational sophomore, Lamont Wade. Wade has 45 total touchdowns this season behind a 2,550 rushing yards. It is safe to say Wade is one of the best sophomores in the state, if not the best. In fact, he may be one of the best in the country, and is already drawing interest from a number of division one colleges. The Bears have a special one, and he could put together a career to rival Tyler Boyd's, and he is off to a heck of a start.
You do not always expect to see a great passing game to go along with a back like Wade, but that is exactly the case with Clairton. Ryan Williams is having an outstanding season throwing the ball with 2,877 yards and 39 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. Williams spreads the ball around, and can throw the deep ball very well. He has a number of targets he can find, but it's Aaron Matthews that may stick out the most. The junior is being touted as a high level recruit and has caught 39 passes for 760 yards with 17 total touchdowns. He is the most talented player in the receiving corps, but James Hines has been equally as effective. It is near impossible to account for everything Clairton is throwing at you, and sometimes the hope is just to slow them down a little bit, while scoring with them at the same time.
Defense is a big part of this game, and both teams have good ones. Starting with Bishop Guilfoyle, the Marauders have given up 11 offensive touchdowns in 15 games this season. In recent weeks, Bishop Guilfoyle's opponent has scored 69 points the week prior to playing them, and managed just 21 points against against the Marauders. They have found a way to slow down some explosive offenses recently, but that task will be even more difficult going against this Clairton team. Meanwhile, Clairton has an excellent defense, but they have been giving up a few big plays this season, and Guilfoyle is an offense that can make them pay. Sometimes their best defense can simply be overwhelming teams with their offense, although it will be tough to psych out a headstrong Bishop Guilfoyle team like this.
Both teams bring a great deal of pride, confidence, and talent into this game. They are similar in a lot of ways, but very different in others. Guilfoyle has a size and physical advantage, where Clairton has a speed and athleticism advantage, It is a great contrast, and should make for a very entertaining game. Sometimes you don't always see the two best teams in the state championship game, but I think this is a year where both teams are a cut above the rest.