BROCKWAY — It is hard to win one title at any level, in any sport. It’s just as hard to follow that championship with another the following year. Trying to do it a third year in a row is even more challenging. But, for the Clearfield Bison, they were on the cusp of doing something that had not been done in the program’s history. Head coach Tim Janocko had to prepare his team to battle for it’s fourth straight District IX Championship in as many years.
Across the turf at Varischetti Field in Brockway was the Bradford Owls, hoping to spoil the party. A great crowd was on hand to see the first bit of hardware get handed out for the 2013 postseason.
Neither side had to wait long to discover who the dominant team was on this night. In fact, no one even had to wait longer than two quarters. In the first half, the Clearfield offense would showcase why they are a stronghold in this title game, putting the opposition out of reach early, and took advantage of mistakes as they would achieve a 51-7 victory over Bradford, putting an exclamation point on another undefeated season with a history-making fourth consecutive championship.
“Feels great. Really happy for our kids, and our program. It’s great to get to this level, stay at this level. Can’t say enough about our kids, their effort, and everyone involved,” Janocko said afterward.
The way Clearfield got to that championship was using exactly what got them to this point – a strong ground attack, a solid passing game when needed, and a defense that can create disruption in all forms. The offense for the Bison put up 293 yards. In some ways, that may seem like a low number, but the defense had a lot to do with it, as they provided a short field a lot of the time, forcing turnovers and quick points.
The Bison defense forced a total of four fumbles, recovering two of them, while also intercepting the ball twice. All but one turnover led to scores, which in the end spelled doom for the Owls.
“You get those turnovers, and a short field, and take advantage,” Janocko said. ”The interceptions were two things, our kids were in good position in the secondary, and we were putting pressure on the quarterback.”
Senior Christian Lezzer was the star of the graduating class on this night, ending with nearly 150 all-purpose yards, and having part in six touchdowns. Normally his sidekick on the field, Tyler Stratton, would also have big numbers. However, after still nursing an injury from a week ago, he would stay on the sideline for the night. Instead, freshman Seth Caldwell would get the start, earning a solid 39 yards.
The night started off with Bradford getting the ball, but deep in their own territory they ran into trouble. On a 3rd and 14, quarterback Zach Bartlebaugh dropped back for the pass, but felt pressure. When he released the ball, it did not go where he expected, hanging in the air, and was picked off by Jake Wingate. The return brought the ball inside the 10-yard line, giving Clearfield a short field. Two plays later, Lezzer would punch the ball in for the first score. An extra point by Spencer Herrington gave the Bison an early 7-0 lead.
But the junior kicker had more to give. On the kickoff, he pinned the ball deep, and on the attempted return, Kyle Phelps tried to get the handle, but even when he did it meant disaster, as he was tackled at the 2-yard line.
Two plays later, Clearfield would get on the scoreboard again, thanks to the defense. The line penetrated into the backfield, tackling Sean Siffrenn in the end zone for the safety. Barely three minutes into the game, the Bison already had a 9-0 lead.
“When you’re able to pin someone down that deep, that’s key. Spencer really kicked the ball well, not only field goals but kickoffs,” Janocko said. ”That’s the biggest difference this year compared to last year, as he’s a bit stronger this year, not that he was bad last year. He’s really becoming a weapon this year.”
The free kick went short, and was returned for a strong gain by Lezzer to the Owls 37. It would only take three plays for the drive to yield a score, as Lezzer bounced off tackles on a 29-yard charge to the end zone. Herrington’s kick made the score 16-0 not even halfway through the first quarter.
The ensuing drive for Bradford saw them get a first down after just one play, but also make a key mistake on offense. Bartlebaugh found himself flushed out of the pocket on 1st and 10 from the 44, so he just threw the ball into the turf. The 5-yard penalty was marked from the spot where the pass left his hand, so a 19-yard loss pinned them back at their own 25.
Two plays later, the third mistake of the night came. Bartlebaugh was back to pass again, and let the ball loose. Wingate again found himself at the right spot, intercepting his second pass of the night.
Lezzer again decided to use his legs, along with giving Caldwell and Seth Ford some carries on the next drive. From the 14-yard line, Lezzer then let his arm do the speaking, as his pass went to Wyatt Flanagan in the end zone, his first passing touchdown on the night. Another extra point, and it was 23-0, not even out of the first quarter.
Bradford continued to struggle offensively as the next drive Bartlebaugh called a draw, and the defense read the play, forcing yet another fumble. The Bison recovered deep in Owl territory, and three plays later Lezzer would add on his third rushing touchdown of the night. Another extra point would make the score 30-0 entering the second quarter.
It would go from bad to worse on the next drive, as despite some signs of life, the Bison defense held back the Owls again. On the ensuing punt, the snap was mishandled, and the special teams made the tackle on what was an 18-yard loss on fourth down.
Clearfield did not want to waste time, and on the very next play, Lezzer connected on a strike to his brother, Ryan, for a 12-yard touchdown. The extra point made in 37-0, putting the running clock into effect after the halftime break.
Another three-and-out by Bradford put Clearfield near mid-field after a punt, and at certain points it seemed like the Bison were going to be stopped, both by the defense and their own mistakes as a costly holding penalty pushed them back 10 yards after a backfield tackle on Caldwell. On second down, Lezzer connected with his brother on a 28-yard pass, and then called his own number on the next play, scoring his final touchdown on a 27-yard dash to the end zone. Herrington’s extra point made it 44-0 heading into halftime.
Lezzer in just one half of play had 79 yards rushing, another 54 yards passing, and accounted for all six touchdowns.
“Any team can be dangerous. They (Bradford) have some athletes, but you come out, make some mistakes, don’t play well, all of a sudden, the other team starts believing, then you’re fighting for your life,” Janocko said.
With the running clock already in effect, Janocko decided to let his starting players take the second half off and let his underclassmen take the field. The junior varsity squad already had their own undefeated season secured, so they entered with a lot of confidence, and Janocko was ready to let them shine on the night.
“Those kids, it’s great for them to get into the game and get the experience. They did a nice job,” Janocko said. ”Those kids play hard, they work hard, and they’re practicing hard all week against a good varsity team, so it makes them better.”
The underclassmen held the Owls scoreless in the third quarter, only yielding one deep play to the starters of the Owls, which was a 59-yard pass to Siffrinn late in the quarter. The pass took some air out of the sails of the Bison, as four plays later it would be Tim Shuster scoring from three yards out, ending the shutout. The scoring drive of the Owls totaled 67 yards of offense, which was nearly 30 yards more than what the offense had all the first half.
But, the jayvee squad did not want to just end the game, they wanted to get on the scoreboard. The final Bison drive would get the sideline excited as the junior varsity team would put together a strong run with each play, but no one seemed to be as happy to get playing time than Bryce Craft. He would get the final three carries on the drive, capping it off with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone that got the varsity squad excited. Josh Sorbera booted the extra point, making the final 51-7 as the final drive by the Owls would run out the clock.
For Janocko, the season has been a special one for him, his staff, coaches and players. It is their fourth consecutive title, but it had more meaning because there are some players on this team that were just freshman when they were part of the 2010 squad that was the first to win 13 games in a season, and won their first District IX title. This team featured a few players that now can say they were part of a historic team, one that Janocko knows was not just of his doing, but everyone around him.
“It’s a credit to everyone involved,” Janocko said. ”There’s a lot of firsts going on. It’s our first time having back-to-back undefeated seasons, then the four straight district titles. Quite a feat for those guys.”
With title in hand, Clearfield now is poised to enter the District 5-6-8-9 subregional playoff of the PIAA tournament. They do not know who they will be facing in the first round, but Janocko was quick to point out two important items in his eyes when it came to the first round of action.
“We know we’re first seed. Whoever it is has to come to our place, so that’s a good thing for us. We like to play at home,” Janocko said. ”We had a great crowd here tonight, our side was packed, and I hope they all come next week for our first playoff game at home.”
Clearfield’s opponent will be announced at the beginning of the week, with date and time at the Bison Sports Complex to be determined as well.
Photos from the title game here: http://www.clearfieldfootball.org/110113Game.html
Clearfield as the No. 1 Seed in the District 5-6-8-9 sub-regional playoff will host the No. 4 seed Johnstown Trojans, who are coming off a 20-9 loss to the Tyrone Golden Eagles.
The game will be played at the Bison Sports Complex likely on Friday night, with kickoff at 7 p.m. Official announcement will come at the beginning of the week.
The District 5-6-8-9 sub-regional bracket for Class AAA has been set. Both games in the bracket will be played on Friday night. As the No. 1 Seed, Clearfield will host the Johnstown Trojans at 7 p.m. Friday night at the Bison Sports Complex. On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 Seed University Prep will play host to No. 3 seed Somerset.
The winners of those two games will play the following weekend on either Friday night or on Saturday. That game will be played at a neutral site.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Bradford 0 0 0 7 – 7
Clearfield 30 14 0 7 – 51
BISON: 7-yard run by C. Lezzer (Herrington kick), 9:50
BISON: Safety, 8:58
BISON: 29-yard run by C. Lezzer (Herrington kick), 7:29
BISON: 14-yard pass from C. Lezzer to Wingate (Herrington kick), 2:46
BISON: 14-yard run by C. Lezzer (Herrington kick), 0:51
BISON: 12-yard pass from C. Lezzer to R. Lezzer (Herrington kick), 11:13
BISON: 27-yard run by C. Lezzer (Herrington kick), 7:19
OWLS: 3-yard run by Shuster (Siffrinn kick), 10:53
BISON: 1-yard run by Craft (Sorbera kick), 5:37
First Downs: 9/11
Rush yards: 89/239
Pass Yards: 71/54
Total Yards: 160/293
Time of Possession: 27:12/20:48
Bradford: Shuster-21 carries, 86 yards, TD; Colosimo-7 carries, 14 yards; Siffrinn-6 carries, (-7) yards; Vleminckx-3 carries, 13 yards; Skaggs-2 carries, (-6) yards; Taylor-1 carry, 5 yards; Bartlebaugh-1 carry, (-5) yards; Kirk-1 carry, (-2) yards; TEAM-1 carry, (-18) yards.
Clearfield: Caldwell-12 carries, 39 yards; C. Lezzer-5 carries, 79 yards, 4 TD; C. Shimmel-7 carries, 46 yards; D. Shimmel-5 carries, 25 yards; Craft-4 carries, 41 yards, TD; Ford-2 carries, 9 yards; Wingate-1 carry, 2 yards; Spaid-1 carry, (-2) yards.
Bradford: Bartlebaugh-2 for 7, 71 yards, 2 INT.
Clearfield: C. Lezzer-3 for 6, 54 yards, 2 TD.
Bradford: Siffrinn-1 catch, 59 yards; Vleminchx-1 catch, 12 yards.
Clearfield: R. Lezzer-2 catches, 40 yards, TD; Flanagan-1 catch, 14 yards, TD.