District IX Class AAA Championship: #2 Bradford Owls vs. #1 Clearfield Bison

BROCKWAY — After nine games in the regular season, two teams are ready to go after something that was a goal at the beginning of the summer.  Months of waking up early to endure practice in the hot sun, late nights studying game film, and every Friday night both teams spent lacing up the cleats, putting on the jerseys and slipping on the helmets have come down to one game.

The District IX championship game for Class AAA is set, and both teams are familiar with the ultimate goal in mind…victory.

On one side of the field, the Bradford Owls, who’s 4-5 record was enough to earn the No. 2 seed in the game, earned their spot with a 24-12 victory over St. Marys one week ago.  On the opposing side of the field, the unbeaten Clearfield Bison, playing in their 14th Class AAA championship game since 1998.

Although this game in the long run will have no bearing on either team’s status in the PIAA playoffs, winning the championship is still key for both schools.

The Owls started the season 2-0, however dropped five of the next six contests before last week’s victory.  If the Owls want a chance at victory, they need to rely on their play makers.

That means expect a heavy dose of Matt Yurkewicz, the senior Owl quarterback.  Despite being expected to be a big threat throwing the ball, he is actually more lethal with his feet, as he leads the team with 864 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns.  He is only 30 for 77 on the season throwing, and has just three touchdowns compared to eight interceptions.  Do not expect a lot of passing from Bradford in this game, but don’t expect Yurkewicz to be the only guy trying to pound the turf.

Senior Aaron Fishkin (370 yards, 4 TD’s), Josh Corignani (323 yards) and Justin Fishkin (313 yards, 3 TD’s) are also big threats on the ground, and could take away some of the load on their quarterback.

It is the first time in five years that Bradford has played in the championship game.  The last time they were in this position was 2007, where Bradford defeated St. Marys by a score of 17-0.

The Bison need to be aware of the multi-back system, but at the same time the Owls defense needs to prepare for a quarterback that will hurt them on the ground and also through the air.

Junior Bison quarterback Christian Lezzer has been waiting for his chance to shine under the bright lights, and when that opportunity came he didn’t disappoint.  He is the leading rusher for Clearfield, earning 1,043 yards on the ground and 16 touchdowns.  He averages 115 yards rushing per game, something that is rare for a quarterback, much less in an offense that spreads the field.  However, Lezzer has been able to wear down defenses using his legs, but then is also able to catch the opposition off guard and launch the ball down the field.

Lezzer has completed 62 percent of his passes, throwing for over 1,100 yards this year, 15 touchdowns and only five interceptions.

His favorite target when he is airing the ball out is Trey Jordan, who last week said that he and his quarterback have worked all summer and in each practice to make their chemistry better.  Jordan has 856 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on the year, so the Owls are very aware of what that combination will be capable of doing.

The other player that Clearfield will use quite a bit during the game is Tyler Stratton.  The second-leading rusher on the squad also averages 100 yards a game, and has 10 rushing touchdowns on the year.

The Bison know what this game means to the school.  As stated above, since the Class AAA championship in District IX was introduced in 1998, this year’s game will mark the 14th time the Bison have been involved in the game.  In the previous 13 appearances, the Bison are 8-5.  Clearfield is going after it’s third straight championship, having defeated St. Marys last year 28-7 and defeating Punxsutawney in 2010 when the Bison had their most successful season in school history, making the state quarterfinals before being defeated, ending a 13-1 season.

It is not the first time these two have faced one another for the championship.  The last time Bradford and Clearfield faced one another in this game was 2006, where after two overtimes it was the Owls hoisting the championship in a 37-30 thrilling contest.

But, as stated earlier, the result of this game has no bearing on either team’s chances in the PIAA playoffs.  For the Owls, it’s win or nothing.  If Bradford is victorious, they will move onto next week’s regional semi-finals.

For Clearfield, their post-season bid is already secure.

The Bison are the top seed in the District 5-6-8-9 regional playoff.  In this bracket, Clearfield is slated to play University Prep, while barring an Owl victory, it will be Punxsutawney and Somerset in the other game.  Both of those contests will be played at neutral sites, as is common with post-season play.

But, that is not on the minds of any of the players, coaches or fans that will be part of Friday night’s game.  It’s about a championship.  Both focused on playing the season one game at a time, and neither is thinking any different even with a title on the line.

It will be an exciting, but cold, night for football.  Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Varischetti Field in Brockway.

Unstoppable Offense and Immovable Defense Lead Clearfield to Third-Straight District IX Championship
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