Donta Green saw the connection made by Westinghouse senior defensive end Michael Richardson.
It was hard to miss with Steelers outside linebacker Alex Highsmith taking part in pregame festivities, which included joining the Westinghouse and host Clairton captains for the coin toss ahead of their Week 0 game Friday night at Neil C. Brown Stadium.
“Highsmith gave him a high-five,” said Green, Westinghouse’s reigning Pittsburgh Union Progress Coach of the Year, of Richardson’s pregame moment with the Steelers’ pass-rush specialist. “That made his night.”
As it turned out, things only got better for Richardson from there.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Richardson blocked a punt, recorded 3½ sacks, forced a fumble and recovered another as Westinghouse rolled to a dominating 28-0 season-opening victory on the road.
“My steps were fast,” Richardson said. “I’m just coming off the ball real fast. I feel like nobody can really keep up with me.”
That was certainly true of Richardson and the rest of the Bulldogs defense Friday night.
Westinghouse held Clairton to just 30 yards of total offense, a majority of which came on the Bears’ final drive of the game against many of the Bulldogs reserve defenders.
“I think our defense played lights out,” Bulldogs senior defensive back Taymir O’Neal said. “We were getting stops. We were getting turnovers. We got a lot of turnovers today. A lot of three-and-outs.”
In fact, O’Neal and Richardson made sure to get their team on the right track.
Richardson made an impact on Clairton’s first drive of the game when he blocked a punt to set his team up with a first-and-goal play on the Bears’ 9-yard-line. Just three plays later, Westinghouse quarterback Khalil Green connected with receiver Lloyd Penn for a 10-yard touchdown pass, which gave the Bulldogs a 6-0 advantage.
On the ensuing Clairton possession, Richardson forced a fumble that was recovered by O’Neal and set Westinghouse up with a possession that began on the Bears’ 21-yard line.
“Mike Richie forced the fumble,” O’Neal said. “I’m always on his side, so I just dove on it, quick reflexes.”
Green said it was typical of the type of plays made by his veteran defensive players.
“They’re reliable,” Green said. “They’re consistent. Every single day, you know what you’re going to get. They’re very coachable. You just know what you’re going to get. Those are kids that you want to go to battle with.”
Richardson especially set the tone for the Bulldogs defense, which added a first-half safety and conceded minus-21 total yards, and minus-46 rushing over the first two quarters, to take an 8-0 advantage into halftime.
“That’s what we expect from him every single week,” Green said. “He’s one of the kids that he’s never missed practice, worked his butt off, gained like 15 pounds over the offseason. We expect him to have games like that all year.”
Despite the dominant performance, the Bulldogs — who won their third City League championship in four seasons and advanced to their first PIAA Class 2A title game in school history in 2022 — weren’t entirely pleased with handing Clairton undoubtedly one of its worst home losses in recent history.
“Our defense, I believe, was lights out,” Richardson said. “I feel like we could do better, though, definitely better.”
Green pointed to his team’s 10 first-half penalties as a cause for concern moving forward. He added that his team needed improved “alignment, assignment and execution” moving forward.
“We can’t survive like that,” said Green, now in his fifth season coaching his alma mater Bulldogs. “That’s not sustainable. It’s just small little tweaks, first-game jitters. We’ve got a lot of first–time starters playing this year. We’ll get better over time.”
The same is certainly true of Clairton.
Despite being held to minus-85 yards rushing, Bears coach Wayne Wade said his defense provided critical toughness in keeping his team in Friday’s game through much of the first three quarters.
“We did a lot of good things on the field,” Wade said. “I thought defensively the first half we really played well against a good football team. Offensively, we just couldn’t get into rhythm.”
After falling behind 6-0, Westinghouse began two of its next four first-half possessions in Clairton territory but was unable to score. The Bears conceded just 104 yards of total offense in the first two quarters.
“To come in 8-0 at halftime, we thought we were in the football game,” Wade said.
The Bears conceded three second-half touchdowns on the ground after Wade said his team began to wear down.
“They’re 50-some-plus [players] on their team,” he said of Westinghouse. “I’ve got 20 guys, that’s what I had in the fourth quarter. My kids fought. We’re going to take our licks from this one. We’re going to evaluate the film and get ready to play Wash High.”
One of the players that will undoubtedly jump out during the Clairton coaching staff’s film review will be middle linebacker Dion Pompey.
The 5-foot-5, 170-pound sophomore made critical plays stopping the Bulldogs rushing attack and ground out some tough yardage carrying the football in the Bears rushing attack.
Wade said Pompey, a first-year player, made quite a first impression on his teammates and coaches.
“Aggressive, the whole time on defense, hitting his gaps, not letting guys block him,” Wade said. “Getting after the quarterback, tackling the ball, he just played well.
“What he showed tonight was a lot of heart and grit,” he added. “If he continues that, he’s going to be special.”
Pompey said he expects his team to learn from its season-opening loss.
“We just need to come back stronger,” he said.
In fact, Wade is counting on it.
“The reason we are playing up is because we need that competition,” Wade said of scheduling Westinghouse in Week 0. “We want that competition. We want to figure out what type of team we have.
“It showed tonight,” he added. “My guys fought. That’s a good Double-A football team that was state runners-up last year, great coaching staff, very disciplined team.”