TYRONE — Going on the road is no easy task for any football team. Going on the road into a very hostile environment is even more difficult. The crowd is more into it, making the visiting team have struggles with things like hearing the snap which can lead to offensive woes.
That was what the Clearfield Bison had to deal with in the seventh week of the season. Their undefeated record was on the line as they traveled to face the Golden Eagles of Tyrone, a team that averaged over 40 points a game, and shrugged off two season-opening losses to to rattle off four consecutive victories, all by big margins.
It was a highly anticipated game in the Mountain League conference, and was billed as the game of the week. For 48 minutes, both sides lived up to the billing. Each squad never gave in, keeping the scoring low, and close.
But, only one team could come out on top. On this night, thanks to a blocked extra point and some tough running, the Bison kept their record unblemished, as they escaped Tyrone with a hard-fought 14-13 victory. It was a victory that head coach Tim Janocko believes was a major hurdle on their season.
“It’s definitely a big win, for sure. To come in here to a hostile environment and a town with a great football tradition and to win, it’s just huge for us,” Janocko said.
Things for both sides were hard-charging, and never came easy. The cold weather didn’t bother either team, as both decided to rely on the ground game to chew up the yards, the clock, and the energy out of the defense. Clearfield barely out-rushed Tyrone, gaining 170 yards compared to 137 for the Golden Eagles. But, the yardage that mattered the most was that by Clearfield quarterback Christian Lezzer. He accounted for 134 yards on the ground, including both touchdowns for Clearfield. But, the one carry that mattered the most was the one that sealed the game.
Meanwhile, Tyrone’s James Oliver, who entered the night with over 1200 yards rushing through six games, only had 123 yards on the ground, and just 21 of those came in the first half. The third and fourth quarters were where he got his rhythm going, something that Janocko knew would eventually happen.
“He’s a heck of a back. You know he was going to get something going before long,” Janocko said.
The beginning of the night went exactly as Clearfield wanted. After deferring the opening coin toss, the Bison were able to force an early three-and-out, and the ensuing punt put the Bison in strong field position, starting 1st and 10 at their own 44. After Lezzer connected to Trey Jordan for 17 yards, it took just three more plays for Lezzer to start his strong night. He called his own number, broke tackles, and rumbled for 32 yards to put the first points on the board. Spencer Herrington was true on the ensuing extra point, and the Bison went up 7-0.
Tyrone never got anything going on the following drive, nor their third possession, as both went to three-and-out as the Bison were able to keep the ground game in check, and quarterback Erik Wagner was not connecting on any of his passes.
Clearfield’s third possession would be another that led to pay dirt. Starting at Tyrone’s 49, it was all about handing the ball off, wearing out the defense, and taking time off the clock.
After nine plays, Lezzer punched the ball in from just two yards out, putting the team’s second touchdown on the board. Another extra point by Herrington made the score 14-0 with just under nine minutes to play in the first half. That touchdown would ultimately be the last time the Bison would score on the night.
The Bison received the second half kickoff, and things were looking strong as they were able to drive the ball deep into the red zone. However, things went wrong on a 2nd and 4 at the Tyrone 12. The handoff to Tyler Stratton, who finished the night with a season-low 48 yards on the ground, lost the handle on the ball and it was Tyrone pouncing on the fumble. The first turnover of the game would still not lead to any points for Tyrone as they went three plays and out on the drive following the turnover.
But the Golden Eagles would make up for it as the defense tightened up on the next possession, and forced a turnover on downs. When Tyrone took the field to start their next drive, it was beginning at the Bison 30, the best field position they started out with all night.
At that point, Oliver got to show off what he’s been able to do all season. The six-play drive consisted of nothing but runs by the star back, culminating in a three-yard dive on fourth down to put the first points on the board for Tyrone. An extra point later, the deficit was cut in half with just under a quarter to play in the game.
Tyrone forced a punt on the next possession, and on the next drive, Oliver once again got the heavy load. Like a Mack Truck that’s hauling a delivery across country, Oliver hauled the entire drive, except for one play, and once again it ended with him scoring from short yardage. The two-yard dive made the score 14-13, with an extra point needed to tie the game. However, with the visiting crowd screaming “Block that kick” as loud as they could, the Bison defense found a gap in the line, and Seth Umholtz’s kick ended up being hit at the line, falling way short of the goal post.
Still, despite having a one-point lead, there was still 3:38 left in the game, and Janocko knew that with Tyrone still having two timeouts, his plan was to run the ball, make the opposition use their two stoppages, and pick up first downs.
It took two plays for Clearfield to get the first down, and Tyrone stopped the clock. Lezzer then called his own number on the next three plays, but would end up short of the sticks. Faced with a 4th and 2, Clearfield let the clock wind down as far as it could before calling time out. The ball was on their own 43, and the stoppage gave the team and coaches a chance to talk about what to do. There was talk of punting the ball, and thinking of letting the defense do the deed of icing the game.
“Yeah, we did think about doing it (punting), but our offense looked at me and said ‘we can get two yards.’ I said alright, get me two yards,” Janocko said.
So, the offense returned to the field, with one goal in mind. A first down would end the game, but not making the yardage meant the defense would have to force a field goal attempt or force a turnover. On the snap, Lezzer called his own number like he did all night. The line surged as best it could, and Lezzer followed his blockers, getting tackled around the ankles. The line pointed as though they gained enough for the first down, but officials brought out the chains to be sure.
When the chain was tightened up, and placed on the ground, it was the length of a football that made the difference. For Clearfield, that difference was great as that was all the farther they made it past the sticks, but it was enough for a fresh set of downs. With no time outs to their disposal, two kneel-downs sealed the game.
Clearfield (7-0) will be on the road for the final time during the regular season next Friday night as they will travel to face Bald Eagle Area.
See photos of the game here: http://www.clearfieldfootball.org/101212Game.html
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 7 7 0 0 – 14
Tyrone 0 0 0 13 – 13
BISON: 32-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 7:59
BISON: 2-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 8:38
GOLDEN EAGLES: 3-yard run by Oliver (Umholtz kick), 11:17
GOLDEN EAGLES: 2-yard run by Oliver (Umholtz kick BLOCKED), 3:38
First Downs: 13/7
Rush Yards: 170/137
Pass Yards: 63/14
Total Yards: 233/151
Penalty Yards: 20/10
Fumbles Lost: 1/0
Time of Possession: 30:02/17:58
Clearfield: Lezzer-33 carries, 134 yards, 2 TD; Stratton-14 carries, 48 yards; Woomer-1 carry, (-10) yards; TEAM-2 carries, (-2) yards.
Tyrone: Oliver-28 carries, 123 yards, 2 TD; Wagner-3 carries, 16 yards; Hunter-1 carry, (-2) yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-4 completions, 6 attempts, 63 yards.
Tyrone: Wagner-1 completion, 7 attempts, 14 yards.
Clearfield: Lord-2 receptions, 47 yards; Jordan-1 reception, 17 yards; Stratton-1 reception, (-1) yards.
Tyrone: Zook-1 reception, 14 yards.