Meyersdale 1201 - Meyersdale_1201.jpg

Meyersdale running back Mike Burkholder carries the ball earlier this season.

The Meyersdale Red Raiders might just be the most well-rested football team in the state.

Now the District 5 Class A titlists have to shake out any rust and be ready to face the District 7 (WPIAL) champion Clairton Bears tonight at 7 p.m. at the Snyder Sports Complex in Berlin.

“We’ve prepared the same way we have all year, which is by practicing hard,” said Meyersdale coach Andy Stahl, whose team is an unblemished 11-0 this year. “One of the major keys to our success is having kids willing to put forth the good effort in practice as well.”

The Bears and Red Raiders are surprisingly similar on many fronts, especially defensively, where each team runs a 3-5 front, featuring three down linemen and five linebackers. The primary difference is the aggressiveness of the Bears, who will stack the line of scrimmage and try to bottle up the opposition.

And for the most part that has worked well for Clairton, which is unbeaten through 13 games and has allowed only 88 points against. The Bears are coming off an emotional 16-13 victory over Rochester in last week’s WPIAL championship at Heinz Field.

“We’re aggressive. We stack the line pretty hard and our three front linemen have been outstanding all year,” Clairton coach Tom Nola said. “They take on all the blocks and let our linemen make all the plays.”

Like Stahl, Nola is in his fifth season as head coach of the Bears, who he joined as an assistant coach in 1994.

He was also there through the disappointment of 2004, when Clairton fell a point short against Rochester in the district championship. The Rams went on to defeat the Berlin Mountaineers a week later and finished as the state runners-up.

“We have to set (last Friday’s district championship victory) aside and refocus,” Nola said. “We have another task at hand and we have to take care of business and get back to our normal routine. We can’t let a celebration of our district championship get in our minds too much.

“We’re glad we’re still playing and we know that every team in the state playoffs is a good team and we don’t expect anything different. They have a good team and a good running game and we’re very impressed with their quarterback.”

That quarterback, senior Matt Stahl, has thrown for 1,109 yards while completing 64 of 126 passes. His leading receiver is senior Jeff Miller, who has caught 24 passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns.

The Bears feature a pair of offensive threats out of the backfield: Senior quarterback Leroy George and junior tailback Zaire Washington. George is a run-first quarterback that has accounted for 1,106 yards rushing, but possesses a strong arm when necessary and has completed 25 of 57 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns. He is one of four seniors on the current roster that started in 2004 against Rochester.

“This is a team that was able to beat a perennial state-championship caliber team in Rochester (this year),” Coach Stahl said. “We definitely have our hands full.

“Hand-in-hand with their athleticism is their speed. We told our guys: On every side of the ball, you have to go faster than you have at any point this year. You have to be full tilt every play. Things will happen fast, and you better be ready.”

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