A look at title games
The upcoming PIAA Football Championships don't lack for storylines.
Without question, the most compelling is District 7 Class A champion Clairton (15-0), the three-time defending Class A state champion which is seeking to become the third school in state history to win a fourth consecutive football championship.
Should the Bears defeat District 2 champion Dunmore (14-1) in Friday afternoon at Hersheypark Stadium, they will join Berwick and Southern Columbia in the Four-Straight Club.
Berwick won consecutive Class AAA titles from 1994 through 1997 when the Bulldogs were the state's most visible program under head coach George Curry. Southern Columbia, located not far from Berwick, one-upped the Bulldogs by winning a state record five straight Class A championships from 2002 through 2006.
If Clairton does win, it will extend its state-record consecutive win streak to 63 games heading into the 2013 season, but its game against Dunmore comes with some historical caution.
When Central Bucks West established the previous record of 59 straight wins, the streak came to an end in a classic 41-35 overtime loss to Cathedral Prep in the 2000 PIAA Class AAAA championship game.
Like Clairton, CB West was seeking a fourth consecutive PIAA title, having won the AAAA championships in 1997, 1998 and 1999.
Also, Clairton has to be wary of Dunmore, traditionally a small Class AA school that dropped to Class A this season and itself with a strong PIAA playoff pedigree. The Bucks won the 1989 PIAA Class A championship and made another championship game appearance in 2007, losing 49-21 to a Jeannette team led by former Ohio State and current Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
In addition, one of Clairton's biggest challenges during its current 62-game winning streak was its 36-30 triumph over another District 2 team, Taylor Riverside, in the 2010 PAIA Class A championship game.
In that game, Riverside, a heavy underdog, had a furious and unrelenting start, scoring three touchdowns and three two-point conversions on three of its first four possessions to take a stunning 24-0 lead before Clairton rallied to score 36 straight points.
This year's state championships remain rather clubby. Only two schools - District 1 Class AAAA champion Coatesville and District 3 Class AA champion Wyomissing - are making their first appearances in a PIAA football championship game.
North Allegheny (Class AAAA), Archbishop Wood and Cathedral Prep (Class AAA), Aliquippa (AA) and Clairton and Dunmore (A) have not only been to the state finals before, but each of those six have been there multiple times.
North Allegheny is making its third appearance, Wood its third, Cathedral Prep its fourth, Aliquippa its fifth, Clairton its fifth straight and Dunmore its second. That's a total of 22 state championship appearances
among those six schools.
Not surprisingly, those six schools are among the most successful programs in PIAA football playoffs since they began in 1988. Combined, they have a 71-29 state playoff record and 10 PIAA championships.By contrast, Coatesville won its first PIAA playoff game when it defeated La Salle College High School 42-35 in an outstanding semifinal game last week (a combined 77 points and 877 offensive yards, both records for a regulation PIAA Class AAA semifinal game) while Wyomissing had just one PIAA playoff win prior to this season.
UNGER PLAYS ... One of the most compelling stories of the year has been the journey of Wyomissing senior quarterback Corey Unger, who transferred from Fleetwood, where he was a three-year starter with outstanding numbers, to Wyomissing in November of 2011.
Unger's transfer was not waived by Fleetwood, and in a hearing, the District 3 Committee found that Unger had transferred for athletic reasons, deeming him ineligible in football for the 2012-2013 season.
Unger appealed to PIAA, which upheld the District 3 findings. However, the PIAA Board of Appeal changed District 3's original penalty from a season-long ban to its standard of one year from the point of transfer.
Unger transferred on Nov. 30, 2011, making him eligible for football on Dec. 1 of this year. As it happened, Wyomissing's PIAA quarterfinal game against Danville was played on Dec. 1, enabling Unger to see his first action in more than a year.
Unger played at wide receiver and quarterback against Danville, and had an expanded role at quarterback in the Wyomissing's state semifinal win over Imhotep Charter. It is uncertain exactly what role he'll play in the state championship game against Aliquippa.
RECORD PASSER ... Port Allegany's Matt Bodamer ended his career in a 44-12 loss to Clairton in last week's PIAA Class A semifinal game at Deer lakes High School, but not without compiling some state record numbers.
Bodamer owns the state records for career passing yardage at 10,948 yards, career touchdown passes at 137 and single-season passing yards with 3,951 (this season). He also tied the single-season state record for touchdown passes, held jointly with Lancaster Catholic's Kyle Smith, with 52 scoring passes this year.
He threw just 28 career interceptions in 990 attempts, an average of one interception in every 35 attempts.
PIAA TURNS 100 ... It's been rather quiet, but the PIAA turns 100 years old later this month.
The PIAA was established as the state's governing body for high school sports on Dec. 29, 1912, at a meeting in Pittsburgh.The organization has not revealed its plans for celebrating the centennial, having just formed a Centennial Committee at its October Board of Directors meeting. The PIAA will further discuss the matter at this weekend's meeting in Hershey.
RIMPFEL RETIRES ... One of the state's most successful football coaches has retired after 43 seasons of coaching.
Tim Rimpfel, who compiled a record of 307 wins and 100 losses and three ties, stepped down last month after 24 seasons at Cumberland Valley, his third and final stop as a head coach in the Harrisburg area. Rimpfel was also the head coach at Trinity and Bishop McDevitt high schools.
Rimpfel's team won 11 District 3 football championships - two at McDevitt and nine at Cumberland Valley - and his 1992 Cumberland Valley team won the PIAA Class AAAA title.
His Cumberland Valley team featured future NFL fullback Jon Ritchie. He also coached Rickey Watters, an All-Pro running back, while at Bishop McDevitt. Rimpfel is one of just 10 Pennsylvania coaches to win 300 or more high school football games.