HYDE-It was a night where the last possession would decide a winner. Two teams undefeated, wanting to have a signature victory on their record early in the season, took to the Bison Sports Complex to do battle.
For 48 minutes, the Clearfield Bison and Central Dragons would go back and forth, neither team yielding for a moment. Momentum switched between the two sides like a ball going back-and-forth on the tennis court. It was a battle of who would make the big play, and became a battle of who could make the biggest play.
Both teams went at it, tooth and nail, neither giving in. But, when the clock read all zeros, it was the home crowd that got to celebrate as the Bison held on following a late drive to eek out a 34-33 victory. Afterward, a nearly relieved head coach Tim Janocko tried to make sense of the game that he just saw his team play.
“There were so many plays, so many heroes tonight, what a great game between two very good teams,” Janocko said.
It was a game that saw the two sides combine for nearly 750 yards of offense, 67 points on the scoreboard, and many break out plays that kept the game close.
Clearfield’s Christian Lezzer had the biggest night for the home team, as he led the team in rushing with 109 yards, threw for an additional 162 yards, and four total touchdowns. But to both Lezzer and Janocko, the real hero of the night wasn’t a quarterback, receiver, or rusher. Instead, it was a young player who’s main job is to use his right foot.
“I do have to single out our sophomore kicker, Spencer Herrington,” Janocko said. “The snap, hold, kick – the two field goals we had were huge.”
Lezzer echoed his coach, stating “Spencer really was the key tonight. Just a great performance by him. Those field goals made the difference.”
On the opposing side of the ball, the two key players for the Dragons saw the ball early, often, and found the end zone just as early and often. Quarterback Austin Cunningham ended the night with 161 yards passing, 30 yards rushing, another 149 yards receiving, and five total touchdowns. Teammate Bradi Moore was just as potent, but his devastation came through the air as he threw for 149 yards on just two passes, both for scores.
The game didn’t start out as Clearfield hoped, as after Central deferred the coin toss, Lezzer took the opening kickoff and fumbled the ball. Central pounced on the early turnover, and drew first blood as Cunningham ran in from just one yard out, capping a quick four-play drive. The extra point was muffed, leaving the score 6-0 not even two minutes into the contest.
“We dug ourselves a hole, no doubt, right off the bat,” Janocko said of the opening fumble.
Clearfield went three-and-out on their next series, but caught a break on defense as Moore himself lost the handle after the Bison forced a strip, and gathered up the loose ball. Ufortunately for the hosts, Clearfield was forced to punt on the ensuing drive.
However, there wasn’t much waiting for the next big opportunity to come the Bison’s way. On the next Central possession, Cunningham was sacked on second down, but had the ball stripped from his grasp. Clearfield surrounded the loose ball, giving them a second take away in less than two minutes.
This time, Clearfield turned the turnover into a lead as Lezzer took a draw play 11 yards into the end zone. Herrington booted the extra point, giving Clearfield the 7-6 advantage.
Central was trying again to get some momentum on their side, but an interception on the next drive ended those hopes. But Clearfield experienced the same luck as Lezzer threw his first pick of the night as well. That turnover would lead to Central regaining the lead as they took the ball to the end zone thanks to Cunningham hooking up with Moore from 34 yards out, on a pass that was originally deflected, but stayed in the air enough for Moore to grab the ball and rumble past the goal line. The Dragons went for two, and made the conversion to put the score at 14-7 with 10:29 remaining in the half.
Clearfield couldn’t answer on the next drive and was forced to punt, but once again got a lucky break as Central lost the handle on the ball, their third fumble of the half, and the Bison were in position to again even the score. They did just that as Lezzer capped of the drive with his second rushing touchdown of the game. Herrington split the uprights, and with just 3:40 remaining in the half, the score was even at 14.
A three-and-out by Central ended their next possession, but Clearfield made its next mistake on the next drive as Lezzer threw an ill-timed pass that Cunningham intercepted. The drive did not go as hoped for Central, and Clearfield found itself with one last chance to get points on the board before the half.
Starting at their own 45, Lezzer completed three of his four passes on the drive, but Clearfield stalled out inside the opposing 5-yard-line. That was when Herrington got the call to go for the field goal. He didn’t waiver, and the attempt went right through the posts, and it was a 17-14 advantage for the Bison when the teams hit the locker room.
The Dragons got the second half kickoff, and knowing that they lost the lead entering the break gave them time to rest, get prepared, and come out guns blazing. Cunningham and Moore hooked up for another touchdown pass, this one from 43 yards out. But the extra point by DC Helsel went wide left, and left a 20-17 lead for the Dragons.
Not wanting to waste time, the ensuing drive for Clearfield was swift and to the point. After two runs by Tyler Stratton, who was held to 63 yards on the night, Lezzer found a gap in between the linebackers and proceeded to outrun the Dragon defense. The 44-yard touchdown run, plus Herrington’s extra point, once again put Clearfield on top, 24-17.
But as quickly as the Bison had the momentum, it disappeared like morning fog once the sun comes through the clouds. This time, the roles were reversed as it was Moore passing to Cunningham for a huge 77-yard touchdown pass and catch. Helsel’s extra point split the uprights, giving Central a 27-24 lead with 8:15 remaining in the third quarter.
“We knew they had good players, and they are a good team,” Janocko said.
Clearfield was not done making noise, as on their next drive it was Lezzer showing he could just as easily find the open receiver down the field. On a 1st and 10 at their own 44, he went deep down the left side and found Trey Jordan for a 56-yard touchdown reception. Another extra point put Clearfield up 31-27, which it remained through the rest of the third quarter.
Still, the Dragons weren’t done. After getting the ball with 1:08 left in the third, they provided the Bison with a bad case of deja vu as Moore once again took the snap and found Cunningham deep down field for another long touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. Helsel’s attempt at the point after went wide right, which left the score 33-31 with 11:04 left in the game.
But Clearfield would get the opportunity to make a big statement on both offense and defense. With 7:09 remaining, the Bison started at their own 23, but right away Jordan got the pass from Lezzer, a 17-yard gain. Then Stratton followed that up with a 33-yard rumble up the middle. Lezzer would gain the next 15 yards, but a penalty set the offense back and they were halted at the Central 12.
That’s when Herrington got the call once again, this time getting the opportunity for a 29-yard field goal on the left hash. The snap, the hold and the boot went perfect, as the kick gave Clearfield the lead; but there was still left plenty of time on the clock for Central to make a charge.
Beginning at their own 27, Austin Conrath gained a quick 25 yards on the round, but soon the Dragons found themselves facing a 4th and 6 near midfield. The Bison faithful were screaming their hearts out trying to make it hard to hear the snap count, but Cunningham connected with Moore for eight yards, and another first down. Things began falling off the wagon on the next snap. Cunningham was sacked on first down, and then had his next two passes fall to the ground.
It came down to a 4th and 14, and both sides were ready. Cunningham went back to pass, looked to his right, and went looking for Cole Kreider. But Jordan was there to knock down the pass, ending the drive.
“We just had to hang in there, read our keys, and make the plays when we had to,” Janocko said.
Central had one last gasp as they forced Clearfield to punt on the final drive of the game, and tried the laterals to keep the play alive. But, an illegal forward pass ended the return, and sealed the victory for the Bison.
Clearfield (3-0) continues the first month of the season on the road next Friday night as they travel to face Huntingdon (0-3), a 71-6 loser to Tyrone Friday night.
Click here for more photos of the big win: http://www.clearfieldfootball.org/091412Game.html
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Central 6 8 13 6 – 33
Clearfield 7 10 14 3 – 34
DRAGONS: 1-yard run by Cunningham (Helsel kick MUFFED), 10:19
BISON: 11-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 4:31
DRAGONS: 34-yard pass from Cunningham to Moore (Frederick reception), 10:29
BISON: 2-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 3:40
BISON: 21-yard field goal by Herrington, 0:00
DRAGONS: 43-yard pass from Cunningham to Moore (Helsel kick WIDE LEFT), 10:19
BISON: 44-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 9:05
DRAGONS: 77-yard pass from Moore to Cunningham (Helsel kick), 8:15
BISON: 56-yard pass from Lezzer to Jordan (Herrington kick), 6:25
DRAGONS: 72-yard pass from Moore to Cunningham (Helsel kick WIDE RIGHT), 11:04
BISON: 29-yard field goal by Herrington, 3:58
First Downs: CN-11 CF-13
Rush Yards: CN-101 CF-172
Pass Yards: CN-310 CF-162
Penalties: CN-7 CF-5
Penalty Yards: CN-23 CF-25
Total Yards: CN-411 CF-334
Turnovers: CN-5 CF-3
Fumbles: CN-3 CF-2
Fumbles Lost: CN-3 CF-1
Time of Possession: CN-23:13 CF-24:47
Central: Cunningham-16 carries, 30 yards, TD; Moore-11 carries, (-13) yards; Conrath-8 carries, 77 yards; Slick-2 carries, 7 yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-28 carries, 109 yards, 3 TD; Stratton-8 carries, 63 yards.
Central: Cunningham-7 completions, 18 attempts, 161 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT; Moore-2 completions, 2 attempts, 149 yards, 2 TD.
Clearfield: Lezzer-10 completions, 20 attempts, 162 yards, TD, 2 INT.
Central: Moore-5 receptions, 116 yards, 2 TD; Cunningham-2 receptions, 149 yards, 2 TD; Kreider-1 reception, 17 yards.
Clearfield: Jordan-4 receptions, 98 yards, TD; Lord-3 receptions, 36 yards; Stratton-2 receptions, 12 yards; Graham-1 reception, 16 yards.