It has officially arrived in central Pennsylvania. It is playoff time for high school football. The elite teams in the area that have worked hard all season long now hope to extend their season for weeks more. It’s win or go home, and no team that has made it to this point in the year wants it to end.
For the Clearfield Bison, it’s their fourth consecutive trip to the PIAA playoffs, and their hope is to continue their winning ways that they have experienced all season long. Their playoff run begins Friday night as part of the District 5-6-8-9 Sub-Regional bracket. For them, they have the biggest advantage as they have secured the No. 1 seed in the bracket. Their first opponent in their quest to continue their undefeated season will be a familiar opponent, one they played two consecutive years in the playoffs in 2010 and 2011, the Johnstown Trojans, who are the No. 4 seed with a record of 3-7.
In 2010, these two teams faced off in the District 6-9 playoff, with Clearfield surprising a strong Johnstown team on the play of Derek Morgan, who accounted for all four touchdowns for the Bison in a 28-12 victory in DuBois.
One year later, these two squared off again in the same bracket, this time with the game played at Mansion Park in Altoona. The game was closer than the year before, as Clearfield scored the winning touchdown from Beau Swales with just 22 seconds remaining in the game, winning by a final of 29-23.
This year’s game is possibly going to be similar to that contest two years ago, but the Trojans are entering this year’s playoff post season under the .500 mark.
Johnstown is coming into the playoffs with a 3-7 record, having lost last week against Tyrone by a final of 20-9 in a game that statistically they were truly in it more than what the score indicated. The Trojans are not ones to take lightly because that’s when they can be dangerous.
This team has a very balanced offense, averaging 154 yards passing and 122 yards rushing per game. Sophomore quarterback Jeremy Updyke has been stellar when it comes to passing the ball, going 89 for 193 on the year, passing for 11 touchdowns. He does have 10 interceptions on the year, which could be a big deciding factor as the Bison secondary will be healthy and ready to go.
On the ground, the Trojans have a 1-2 punch when rushing the ball. The leading rusher is senior Jayvon Braxton, with 493 yards on the ground this year with a team-high seven touchdowns. When he is not the one rushing, it’s Terrell Sones getting the load, as he has 446 yards rushing with three scores.
These three young men are likely going to be the focus of the Bison defense, as they will try to hold back the Trojans on every drive.
On the opposing side of the ball, the Johnstown defense has a tough task ahead of them in trying to slow down the undefeated Bison rushing attack. Averaging 342 yards rushing per game, Johnstown needs to somehow figure out how to slow down Christian Lezzer, Tyler Stratton and Seth Caldwell on the ground.
Lezzer has made the most of his senior season, rushing for over 1400 yards while now having the “slash” role on offense, playing quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and even tight end. Lezzer has 27 rushing touchdowns thus far, and has thrown for another five. When he isn’t running, his teammate Stratton has been getting the carries.
Despite being slowed down by injuries, Stratton is close to the 1000-yard mark on the ground. He was dressed to play one week ago in the District IX championship, however head coach Tim Janocko kept him out as the game was well in hand and he didn’t want to risk more injury than what had occurred. But entering this game, Stratton is completely healthy, and wants to make sure his senior season is marked with a strong performance.
While Stratton was injured, it was Seth Caldwell that emerged as the go-to back for the Bison. He’s ran for over 700 yards rushing this season, with five touchdowns, caught one touchdown pass, and recorded two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
With Stratton graduating, there is no doubt that Caldwell will be the featured back come next year, but his performance in just his freshman year has shown that he can get the job done when needed.
The other player to watch for the Bison is quarterback Eric Sellers. He got his first start this year against Bellefonte, and has been a strong performer ever since. He’s thrown for 232 yards and two touchdowns in just half a season. He could be the “X-Factor” in the game because even though he’s only started four games for Clearfield, he’s shown to have great poise and leadership of the offense.
For both teams, it’s a victory or a finale in 2013. But, the biggest factor of all that is playing to Clearfield’s advantage is the fact that by being the higher seed in the first round of playoffs, they don’t have to travel. This game will be played at the Bison Sports Complex, a place where the graduating class has not lost a game, and also has remained undefeated on the new turf field. This year’s squad wants to make sure that it graduates with an undefeated record in playoff games at the BSC.
Kickoff on Friday night is slated for 7 p.m. Fans are encouraged to bundle up as temperatures on Friday will not go past 50 degrees, and could dip close to freezing during the game.
|08/30||ST. JOAN OF ARC||45 – 7||1 – 0|
|09/06||PENNS VALLEY||37 – 15||2 – 0|
|09/13||@ Central||35 – 20||3 – 0|
|09/20||HUNTINGDON||58 – 30||4 – 0|
|09/27||@ Central Mountain||49 – 13||5 – 0|
|10/04||@ Bellefonte||49 – 13||6 – 0|
|10/11||TYRONE||27 – 26||7 – 0|
|10/18||BALD EAGLE AREA||31 – 6||8 – 0|
|10/25||@ Philipsburg-Osceola||56 – 7||9 – 0|
|11/1||D9 AAA Title Game|
|vs. Bradford||51 – 7||10 – 0|
|11/8||District 6-6-8-9 Regional|