ROARING SPRING — One key thing that is driven home to any football team is that the one that wins the battle up front will be the one that wins. That’s something that is driven in the minds of linemen, whether on the offensive side of the ball or on the defensive side. At the high school level, with the same names playing both sides, if those players can win the battle on both sides, it means that the team is well-balanced and well coached.
For the Clearfield Bison, all the accolades and statistics go to the backs and receivers, but those same players credit their front line to do the job right.
When the Bison went on the road for the first time in 2013, they had a very tough challenge ahead. The Central Dragons were coming off an impressive win over Tyrone, and had many tough players to account for the yards, while the linemen created the holes for those players to run through. The Bison had to figure out a way to not only create chaos on the line to keep Central from scoring, but somehow figure a way to get their own line to out-muscle, and out maneuver the Dragon defense.
Not only did Clearfield figure out how to do it, they did so in grand style.
Despite being down twice in the first half, the Bison were able to win a major battle in the trenches, imposing their will on the defense while wearing them down, getting them tired, and then preventing the Dragons from ever getting momentum when needed. The Bison would score 21 unanswered points in the second half, and hold the Dragons scoreless for over 30 minutes to maintain their undefeated record in a 35-20 victory.
“We don’t play to have just two great quarters of football. These are the games you want to be in,” quarterback Christian Lezzer said afterward. ”The line played great, (Tyler) Stratton had a heck of a game, let’s go home and celebrate.”
To say he and Stratton had a great game is an understatement. The two combined for all 35 points on the scoreboard for the Bison, but what is most impressive is at the end of the day, the two combined for 424 of the 449 yards in the Bison victory. But, Lezzer quickly put the real credit not on him nor his senior running back. Instead, it went to the offensive line.
“All the credit goes to the line. They just had a solid game up front,” Lezzer said.
Head coach Tim Janocko echoed his quarterback’s statement, saying, “We were very physical in the first half, and they (Central) were like race horses in the first half, and we needed to slow them down. We made some punishing runs, I thought our offensive and defensive line did a great job. I just thought we wore them down and took it to them.”
The Bison offensive line allowed Stratton and Lezzer to control the ball, and the clock. The Dragons only held the ball for just over 14 minutes. In the first half, Austin Cunningham was making it seem like another one of his strong nights, passing for 60 yards and rushing for another 141 in the opening 24 minutes. But the Bison defense stood up big in the second half, holding the entire Dragon offense to a mere 43 yards.
Central tried to make the big statement on their opening drive, and nearly did so. After Cunning ham ran for 27 yards, then threw a pass to Bradi Moore for another 12, they were just outside the red zone. But Cunningham on the next play saw the ball get stripped from his grasp, and the Bison defense pounced, causing a turnover with just a minute and a half gone on the clock.
Lezzer and Stratton went to work on the ensuing drive, starting at their own 9-yard line. After making it to midfield on six consecutive run plays, the two would connect on a 50-yard pass to score the first touchdown of the game. Spencer Herrington would boot the extra point to give the Bison the touchdown advantage.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last long. What was good for Clearfield ended up being good for Central, as Cunningham on the next drive connected with Adam Frederick for a 48-yard touchdown pass. The extra point attempt was botched, so Clearfield just managed to hang onto the lead by a mere point, 7-6, with just under six minutes left in the first quarter.
Clearfield itself wasn’t immune from mistakes, as on the second play of the next drive, Lezzer made a bad call on a pass that was picked off by Cunningham in Bison territory. That led to him just four plays later handing off to Moore for a two-yard plunge into the end zone. Cunningham connected with Jared Ponder to add on the two-point conversion, making the score 14-7 heading into the second quarter.
The ensuing drive for Clearfield would begin to see what it would take to win, as beginning with 3:41 left in the first quarter, it took 13 plays to get just inside the five-yard line, but more importantly wore down the clock and the opposition. Stratton got his second touchdown of the game with 10:15 to go in the half, and another Herrington extra point would tie the game.
Central answered right back on the next drive as Zac Emerick would score on an eight-yard run with 7:46 remaining. The attempted two point conversion by Cunningham was incomplete, leaving the score 20-14.
But then, Clearfield went to work in what seemed to be their game plan from the beginning, as starting at the 32, it was simple play calls. Lezzer, Stratton, and repeat as the team would march down the field before stalling out at the 7-yard line. Lezzer tried to go play action on 4th and 4, but the ball bounced incomplete in the end zone. At the same time, nearly seven minutes were taken off the clock, meaning Central would be tired when they went on offense.
Cunningham didn’t feel that way as he would run on the first two plays for 47 yards, but then it was teammate Noah Benton that made things interesting. On 3rd and 2 from the Bison 38, Benton took the snap and passed looking for Emerick. Instead, it was Clearfield’s Nick Kovalick intercepting the pass, preventing a possible score and lost of momentum to Clearfield. The play at the end of the half, along with the long drive, seemed to give the Bison what they needed for the final 24 minutes of play.
“We knew what we had to do, and we didn’t panic. We felt like we should have stuck one in there at the end of the second quarter but we didn’t, yet we knew we were getting the ball coming out, and we knew what we had to do,” Janocko said.
Clearfield opened the second half with the ball, and didn’t waste any time. After a strong kickoff return, Stratton would take a 3rd and 5 play and rumble 45 yards down the right sideline for his third touchdown of the game. Another extra point and Clearfield was back on top, despite it only being a small margin at 21-20.
The Dragons would go three-and-out on the next drive, the only time all game it would happen for either team, and had to punt. Clearfield again decided to wear down the defense, and the line did its job each time. Stratton and Lezzer both took punishing hit after punishing hit, until finally Lezzer broke a 19-yard run to the left corner and got past the pylons for his lone rushing touchdown of the game. Herrington booted one more kick and the score was 28-20 with still a quarter to play.
“I felt at the end of the second quarter we started to wear them down,” Janocko said.
Yet Central would not go quietly. Once again they came back on the next drive, pushing into Bison territory and forcing them to play both the run and the pass.
On a third and 18, Cunningham again looked for Emerick, but the pass was short, and Seth Caldwell was there to grab the interception, and hand the Bison back the ball with lots of time on the clock.
Clearfield made good use of it as the ensuing drive would eat up nearly eight minutes off the clock, with each play being a ground attack. In fact, after an incomplete pass on Clearfield’s last drive of the first half, the Bison never again attempted to throw the ball. But at that point, there was no need. The offensive line was imposing their will and the Dragons simply could not answer back. In the end, Stratton would score one more time, ending the night with three rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown. Herrington kicked one more extra point, and the 35-20 score remained until the final whistle.”
“That’s what Stratton and I want; we want to take the load off the rest of the guys,” Lezzer said afterward.
Clearfield now sits at 3-0 for the fourth straight year, but this team to Janocko is a lot different than the one from a year ago, or even from two years ago. The reason he feels that way is because of the talent he has on the team, but also because of how young they are, and that each week they are continuing to grow, and get better.
“To put things in perspective, in the second half both our corners were freshman. We’re growing up, but it’s going to take time. Those young kids are growing week by week, and you look out there and see two freshman against Cunningham, you start saying your prayers and being very thankful,” Janocko said.
Next week the Bison host their third game in four weeks as they take on the Huntingdon Bearcats, who are coming off a 28-6 loss to Tyrone.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 7 7 14 7 – 35
Central 14 6 0 0 – 20
BISON: 50-yard pass from Lezzer to Stratton (Herrington kick), 7:17
DRAGONS: 48-yard pass from Cunningham to Frederick (Mellott kick BLOCKED), 5:40
DRAGONS: 2-yard run by Moore (Cunningham pass to Ponder), 3:41
BISON: 2-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 10:15
DRAGONS: 8-yard run by Emerick (Pass from Cunningham to Emerick INCOMPLETE), 7:46
BISON: 45-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 10:35
BISON: 19-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 6:01
BISON: 9-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 8:27
First Downs: 21/11
Rush Yards: 374/204
Pass Yards: 75/122
Total Yards: 449/326
Time of Possession: 33:21/14:39
Clearfield: Stratton-32 carries, 191 yards, 3 TD; Lezzer-28 carries, 183 yards, TD; TEAM-3 carries, 0 yards.
Central: Cunningham-14 carries, 156 yards; Conrath-4 carries, 5 yards; Emerick-3 carries, 32 yards, TD; Moore-3 carries, 8 yards, TD; Benton-1 carry, 3 yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-2 for 5, 75 yards, TD, INT.
Central: Cunningham-3 for 13, 82 yards, TD, INT; Benton-1 for 4, 40 yards, INT.
Clearfield: Stratton-1 catch, 50 yards, TD; Lansberry-1 catch, 25 yards.
Central: Frederick-1 catch, 48 yards, TD; Cunningham-1 catch, 40 yards; Emerick-1 catch, 22 yards; Moore-1 catch, 12 yards.