HYDE — In week one Tyler Stratton only ran a few times, nursing a leg injury from a scrimmage the week before. In a couple of more games, he would see the sideline more than the line of scrimmage. Last week, he was helped off the field, wondering if he would even be able to suit up the following week.
For Stratton, his final year as a member of the Clearfield Bison football team was one of emotions, both joy and sorrow. Friday night, he and other senior teammates suited up for the final regular season game at the Bison Sports Complex, not just for this year, but their careers. It debated whether Stratton was healthy enough to put on the pads, and to make his final night worth it.
With the Bald Eagle Area Eagles looking to play spoiler, the Bison needed to put their emotions behind them, and focus enough to keep their win streak alive.
What they did was rely on a strong offensive line, a defensive squad causing turnovers, and Stratton putting on the best game of his season when it mattered most. Stratton would not only put on his No. 22 black jersey, but he would start the game and rush for season-high numbers, scoring all four Bison touchdowns in a 31-6 thumping of the Eagles.
“When he’s healthy, it makes us a little more diversified. Bald Eagle was keying on (Christian) Lezzer wherever he was going, which opens things up to where he can do a bit of damage,” Head Coach Tim Janocko said afterward of his senior tailback.
Stratton seemed to dig deep when it counted, as he would take the focus off Lezzer for the first time in several weeks, rushing for 206 yards on the ground, and accounting for all four touchdowns.
“It was the most important night of my life. This night, it’s going to be an unforgettable night,” Stratton said afterward.
It certainly was, as he not only was able to hit the bicentennial mark on the ground, he out-gained the entire Bald Eagle offense. Clearfield’s defense held the Eagles to just 62 yards of offense, forcing five turnovers in the process.
“I was really happy with our defense because Bald Eagle has some kids with some speed and some play makers. Our defense really stifled them I felt throughout the game,” Janocko said. ”I think that was key. We had a short field a few times, we moved the ball pretty consistently.”
Stratton echoed his head coach, stating “I think our defense did the best they did all year. It was a very great defense we run…I don’t know what else to say.”
Bald Eagle started the night with the ball, and the first big break came quickly. After making it to near mid-field, Eagles quarterback Jason Jones connected with Bryan Greene, however when he tried to break tackles the defense got the ball loose from his grasp, pouncing on the fumble. Clearfield would take over in Eagles territory, but was stopped on fourth down.
After a punt by Bald Eagle, Stratton’s night would start off with a huge bang. Out of the shotgun, Eric Sellers faked the handoff to Lezzer, which caused the defense to go towards him. Meanwhile, Stratton got the ball and found an easy gap down the sideline. It would be an impressive 62-yard touchdown run to start off his night. Spencer Herrington booted the extra point, and it was 7-0 early in the game.
On the next drive, Clearfield would once again come up huge, forcing yet another fumble, this time on a handoff to Caleb Weaver. Not even out of the first quarter, Clearfield would have the ball after another turnover, this time in the red zone.
Not wasting much time, it would be five straight runs by Lezzer and Stratton, with Stratton finishing the drive off on a three-yard run at the 3:16 mark. Herrington added the final point, and it was 14-0, remaining that way into the second quarter.
Clearfield again forced a three-and-out to start the second frame, and didn’t waste any time making an impact on their next drive.
Once again the handoff went to Stratton, who found a gap on the right side of the line, and when he got loose, it was over. It would be 59 yards later till Stratton found the goal line. Another extra point, and the score was 21-0 just over two minutes into the second quarter.
On the kickoff, Clearfield again made it difficult, as despite a great return by Dakota Bartley, his grip on the ball was not grand, and again the Bison pounced on the ball. It would not lead to a touchdown this time, however the long drive did eat up time on the clock, and Herrington did manage to put the ball through the uprights on a 23-yard field goal. That would be the final score of the first half, leaving it 24-0 at the break.
Clearfield was to get the ball to start the second half, but on the opening kickoff it would be a case of deja vu, as Seth Caldwell lost the handle on the ball, and would cause the first Clearfield turnover.
However, despite great field position and a quick momentum shift, the Eagles were stopped on fourth down once more.
The Bison would put together their longest drive of the night, 13 total plays for 69 yards, ending with Stratton putting in his final touchdown, this one from four yards out. One more kick by Herrington, and the 31-0 score was in.
But to think Clearfield was done making plays was untrue, as seen by not only the next drive, but the first Eagles play on the drive. Jones went back to pass, looking for Greene. But the ball seemed to hang in the air too long, and Lezzer was right there for the interception. A great return gave Clearfield great field position, and even more momentum to start the final quarter of play.
Unfortunately for tor the Bison faithful, the drive did not last long as Clearfield was forced to turn over on downs.
Yet, not satisfied with that, Jones wanted to make an impact on the next play, looking for Mitchel Struble. However the ball was slightly tipped by Stratton, and once again Lezzer was there to gather up the ball. Two single-play drives yielded the fourth and fifth turnovers for Bald Eagle, all but cementing the game for Clearfield.
“Christian is a special athlete. Last couple weeks we’ve put him in the secondary. We were really concerned about Bald Eagle throwing the ball, and he made some big picks,” Janocko said.
Bald Eagle finally got on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter, thanks to two field goals by Tyler Schall. His first was at the 7:45 mark from 37 yards, and the final one as time expired from 40 yards out.
Now at 8-0, Clearfield has one final game on the regular season, which will be on the road. But heading into that game, they are riding a win streak dating back to 2011. Through the last three regular seasons, the Bison have won 21 consecutive games. More importantly, the graduating class has not lost a game at the Bison Sports Complex. In fact, they have the honor of saying they are the only class that has not lost a game on two different surfaces at the BCS. Through 2010 and 2011, the field was the beat up grass that would get torn up so quick, and make footing so hard. Then the last two years, this class competed on the entirely new field turf, an investment that has paid off nicely for the Clearfield community.
“This group of seniors have put up some special numbers in their time here. I told them we need to keep this thing going to make a decent playoff run here,” Janocko said. ”They’re a very dedicated group and have a lot to be proud of.”
Stratton was quick to follow up the rich history of Clearfield football at the BCS, making it clear as to what motivates them to keep up such a streak at home.
“We have a tradition here: We didn’t want to be the first to lose on our field. This is our home, and we need to protect it.”
Clearfield goes on the road next week to face Philipsburg-Osceola, who lost to Huntingdon 28-21 on Friday. But for Clearfield, its another week to make history, and to achieve greatness. For Stratton, it’s not just about him or the senior class. Instead it’s about the team as a whole, and what motivates them to succeed each week, with each game, and each play.
“The heart we put into it,” Stratton said. ”There’s never any thought in the locker room where someone brings up ‘Well, if we would lose;” it’s always ‘We’ll dig deep and find a way to win’.”
See photos of the game here: http://www.clearfieldfootball.org/101813Game.html
SCORE BY QUARTER
Bald Eagle Area 0 0 0 6 – 6
Clearfield 14 10 7 0 – 31
BISON: 62-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 6:16
BISON: 3-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 3:16
BISON: 59-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 9:56
BISON: 23-yard Field Goal by Herrington, 6:50
BISON: 4-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 3:38
EAGLES: 37-yard Field Goal by Schall, 7:45
EAGLES: 40-yard Field Goal by Schall, 0:00
Bald Eagle Area/Clearfield
First Downs: 4/10
Rush Yards: 20/333
Pass Yards: 42/11
Total Yards: 62/344
Time of Possession: 19:22/28:38
Bald Eagle Area: Struble-6 carries, 4 yards; Weaver-5 carries, 10 yards; Bartley-5 carries, 1 yard; Peters-3 carries, 5 yards; Jones-3 carries, (-3 yards); Schall-2 carries, 8 yards; Greene-1 carry, (-6) yards.
Clearfield: 18 carries, 206 yards, 4 TD; Lezzer-12 carries, 79 yards; Sellers-8 carries, 36 yards; Caldwell-8 carries, 15 yards; D. Shimmel-5 carries, 10 yards; C. Shimmell-2 carries, 2 yards; Spaid-1 carry, (-15) yards.
Bald Eagle Area: Jones-8 for 17 yards, 42 yards, 2 INT; Schall-0 for 1, 0 yards.
Clearfield: Sellers-1 for 15, 11 yards.
Bald Eagle Area: Greene-4 catches, 21 yards; Schall-2 catches, 13 yards; Watkins-1 catch, 6 yards; Bartley-1 catch, 2 yards.
Clearfield: Flanagan-1 catch, 11 yards.