HYDE — Playoff football brings out the best in every player, and brings out some of the best games. For the second time in the last three years, the Clearfield Bison entered post-season play without a blemish on their record, and have a Class AAA championship added to it. Now, head coach Tim Janocko and his team know that each week it could mean the end of another strong campaign.
Friday night at the Bison Sports Complex, the post-season began as the Bison would play host to the Punxsutawney Chucks in the District 5-6-8-9 regional playoff.
Both teams entered the night with a strong ground game, meaning both would have to play strong defense as well to win. On this night, the Bison would put up their strongest rushing game of the season en route to a 38-18 victory over the Chucks, continuing yet another successful season.
“You know that’s been our M.O. this season, and we did it once again. Both teams played well. We made plays, they made plays, but it was an overall good game for us,” Janocko said after the win.
The Bison were almost unstoppable on offense, putting up 458 total yards of offense, but the rushing yards for the Bison was the strength that gave them victory. At the end of the night, Clearfield had their best total rushing yards all season in one game (377) and for the first time one player went past the bicentennial mark on the ground.
That player was Christian Lezzer, who finished his night with 233 rushing yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. But he wasn’t done there, as he also had a passing touchdown, then had two sacks on defense and also blocked a punt.
“He keeps coming at you,” Janocko said. “He’s just been better and better each game, and he needed to be tonight.”
The supporting cast for Lezzer still had a strong night, with Tyler Stratton having 95 yards rushing and two touchdowns, Trey Jordan having 81 yards receiving with a score, and Seth Beardsley grabbing an interception.
But, the Bison couldn’t keep the Chucks from having their own strong night, as quarterback Garrett Zimmerman ended the night with 152 yards passing and a touchdown.
After forcing a punt on the Chucks’ opening drive, Clearfield looked to establish the ground game early, however after three plays their longest run was only seven yards. Still, they had a first down on their own 27, but then Lezzer decided to let it rip. Looking down the sideline he looked for his main target, Jordan, and found him in stride. His receiver did the rest of the work, and just under five minutes into the game, Clearfield was on top. Spencer Herrington was brought on for the point after, and it was 7-0 in favor of the Bison.
Punxsutawney did find some momentum on their next drive thanks to running back Jamie Bush. He would end the night with 73 yards on the ground, and would get the bulk of the carries on the drive. However, the Chucks would not make it to mid-field and had to punt. At that point the momentum took a big swing as Lezzer broke through the line and managed to get his hands on the ball, blocking the punt and setting up the Bison with a short field.
What many didn’t expect was the struggle that came after. The Bison would make it as close as the 6-yard line, but a sack on third down pushed them back and forced a fourth down decision. Suddenly, out came Herrington, as Janocko decided to let the sophomore try another field goal on the year. Having been 2-for-2 this year, he was confident. The snap, hold, and kick were all perfect as the 30-yard field goal split the uprights, and gave Clearfield a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
“I’m not sure, I think that’s a record for field goals in a season,” Janocko joked after the game.
The Chucks once again had another long drive stall out on the next possession, but then it was Clearfield who also had trouble gaining momentum as the two exchanged punts.
It wouldn’t be until Clearfield’s next-to-last possession of the half when another score would be put up on the board. On a 2nd and 3 at the Punxy 5-yard line, Lezzer handed the ball to Stratton, who followed his blocks and scored his first touchdown of the night. The extra point made it 17-0 heading into halftime.
The Bison would receive the opening kickoff in the second half, but the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter was one that almost would shift momentum in an instant to the visiting team. Lezzer mishandled the snap, but quickly picked it up and tried to make something out of a broken play. Not only did he make something out of the broken play, he broke loose down the left sideline for a 65-yard touchdown. Less than one minute into the third quarter, another extra point, and it was 24-0.
Punxsutawney finally got on the board on the ensuing drive, as it was Bush making the plunge into the end zone. The Chucks went for two, however Bush was stopped before the goal line, leaving the score 24-6.
The next two drives would be punts for both squads, but Clearfield would make the first mistake of the second half. Lezzer called his own number up the middle, but the Chucks’ defense stripped the ball from his grasp, and the Bison had their first turnover of the game. It would take just one play for Punxsutawney to take advantage of the fumble, as Christian Falgout would break free on the ensuing play for a 46-yard touchdown run.
Once again, the Chucks went for two, but the pass would fall incomplete, leaving the score 24-12 with just under four minutes left in the third to play.
Clearfield would answer back with a 5-play, 53-yard drive that would be capped off with Stratton rumbling for an 18-yard touchdown. Another extra point, and the score was 31-12 heading into the final quarter of play.
Sadly, after the Bison defense forced a punt, the ensuing drive would end up short of points. Clearfield would drive to the one-yard line, but on the handoff Lezzer nearly lost the ball, and when he tried to hand off to Stratton, the ball bounced off his chest, bouncing into the end zone and was recovered by the Chucks for a touchback.
“You know we got sloppy here and there, but that goes to show that Punxsutawney had discipline. We need to take care of the ball,” Janocko said.
Punxsutawney would use the turnover to put together their longest drive of the game, 14 plays and 80 yards. This drive was capped by Zimmerman finding an open Clayton Dale for a 15-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the score 31-18, with 1:24 left to play.
The Chucks tried the onside kick, but the Bison recovered the ball and knew all they needed was a first down to seal the game. Lezzer got the first down on the first play after the recovery, and then proceeded to put the stiff-arm to a couple defenders as he would run 52 yards for the final touchdown of the game. Herrington would put through the extra point, and the final score was set.
Now at 11-0, Clearfield has another week of football to prepare for. It’s one that Janocko says is needed because of injuries.
“We lost Dylan (Graham) at halftime, and he’s key on defense since he calls most of the plays. Corey Stiver had some hip injury, so we had a sophomore playing linebacker for most of the game, and you saw Stratton go down,” Janocko said. “It’s good to get those kids some game experience, but we need to get healthy for next week.”
For Janocko, every week is another chance to keep the season going, and to him, there’s only one way to describe post-season play.
“At this point in the year, it’s survive. That’s what we have to do,” Janocko said.
The Bison will face University Prep in the District 5-6-8-9 championship game next week. They were victorious over Somerset Friday night by a final of 47-38. The date, time and location of the game will be determined at the beginning of the week.
See photos of the game here: http://www.clearfieldfootball.org/110912Game.html
The District 5-6-8-9 championship game time and location have been set. The Bison will take on the University Prep Panthers at 1 p.m. on Saturday, November 17. The game will be played at Memorial Field on the campus of Clarion University.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Punxsutawney 0 0 12 6 – 18
Clearfield 7 10 14 7 – 38
BISON: 73-yard pass from Lezzer to Jordan (Herrington kick), 7:38
BISON: 30-yard Field Goal by Herrington, 11:08
BISON: 5-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 1:19
BISON: 65-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 11:40
CHUCKS: 6-yard run by Bush (Conversion failed), 8:39
CHUCKS: 46-yard run by Falgout (Conversion failed), 3:53
BISON: 18-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 1:36
CHUCKS: 15-yard pass from Zimmerman to Dale (Conversion failed), 1:24
BISON: 52-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 1:12
First Downs: 13/14
Rush Yards: 184/377
Pass Yards: 152/81
Total Yards: 336/458
Penalty Yards: 26/32
Fumbles Lost: 0/2
Time of Possession: 29:15/18:45
Punxsutawney: Bush-25 carries, 83 yards, TD; Falgout-11 carries, 79 yards, TD; Zimmerman-8 carries, (-17) yards; Maruca-2 carries, 39 yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-21 carries, 233 yards, 2 TD; Stratton-13 carries, 95 yards, 2 TD; Ford-4 carries, 49 yards.
Punxsutawney: Zimmerman-10 completions, 20 attempts, 142 yards, TD, INT.
Clearfield: Lezzer-2 completions, 9 attempts, 81 yards, TD.
Punxsutawney: Dale-5 catches, 74 yards, TD; Foster-2 catches, 30 yards; Bush-2 catches, 28 yards; Bevak-1 catch, 8 yards.
Clearfield: Jordan-2 catches, 81 yards, TD.