HOLLIDAYSBURG — All season long, the Clearfield Bison have shown that veteran leadership can conquer adversity. This year, the schedule meant that on a few occasions, the test put in front of them was one of a state-ranked opponent. Twice, the Bison came out on top, stunning the opposition.
A third test came Friday night, but the stakes were even higher. It was the District 5-6-9 Subregional Finals, with a spot in the PIAA State Playoffs on the line. The setting was the Hollidaysburg School District Athletic Complex. Clearfield entered as the No. 1 seed, and donned the black jerseys on this night. Looking across the field, a familiar opponent was seen. The white jerseys and blue pants, trimmed in black, of the Johnstown Trojans were the team to beat.
A year ago, this contest came right down to the wire, and no one was expecting anything less than a game that could come down to key moments, and big plays.
In the end, that is what the fans on both sides of the ball witnessed. In a game that went back and forth for 48 minutes, neither team would yield. But, it was costly moments that would spell the end for one team. Despite wearing the home look, the Bison stepped foot on the visitor sideline, possibly to show that they may be the “home” team in the bracket, but they were still not at the Bison Sports Complex. Those mind games didn’t seem to phase the Trojans, as their defense would lock down and make a big statement.
Two costly turnovers in the second half, and the overwhelming speed of Johnstown proved to be too much when the game was in the balance. Clearfield watched the final seconds tick away, realizing they were on the wrong end of a 26-21 score, and witnessed the 2016 season come to an end.
“We had opportunities. It really came down to two or three plays we didn’t make, but they did. We played a great football game against a great team,” Head coach Tim Janocko said afterwards. “That’s the third ranked team we’ve played this year, and we had a chance to win.
“I’m proud of our kids and how they competed. It was a great football game.”
Johnstown opened the night in a big way on the opening drive. Despite the first six plays being runs by both Austin Barber and Bryce Gibson, it was Barber’s arm that fired the first shot. On 2nd and 8, he launched a pass down the sideline that went square into the hands of Theo Tinsley, scoring the first touchdown not even three minutes into the game. Mike Marino added the extra point and that quickly Clearfield was down seven points.
Barber followed suit on the Trojans’ second drive following a Bison punt, but in this case his passing helped set up the run. The drive started with a 30-yard bomb to Raushad Jordan-Mainess, and four plays later the two connected for another 17 yards.
The next play saw Barber call his own number on a scramble, and the Bison defense couldn’t get there in time to prevent the second score. Another extra point, and the score was 14-0 after one quarter.
Barber finished his night with 225 yards passing against the Bison secondary. Janocko said afterwards that Johnstown had talent, but that his team also had their own stars on the night.
“He’s an outstanding player. He made some great plays, but our kids did too,” he said.
That first big play by the Bison came on the first play of the second quarter. Barber connected with Jordan-Mainess again for a 10-yard gain, but before he fell to the ground, Steven Sawyer ripped the ball from his grasp, and nearly made it to the end zone on the forced fumble.
Instead, the short drive from just outside the goal line was capped with Seth Caldwell taking the wildcat snap into the end zone. Josh Serena added the extra point, giving Clearfield a 14-7 deficit just 90 seconds into the second quarter.
The next time the Bison took control of the ball, it would set forth what defined their season. No play was too long, nor too short. The offense led by Isaac Rumery kept chipping away at the yardage, while wearing down the defense. The drive took 14 plays until Rumery went for a deep ball down the right sideline. His pass was tipped by Tinsley, but yet Micah Heichel kept his focus and snagged the tip from the air, making sure he stayed away from the white out-of-bounds line.
The stunning touchdown erased over six minutes on the clock, and the extra point erased the deficit. At halftime, it was 14-14, with no clear advantage to either team.
Janocko knew entering the game, things would be a challenge for the Bison due to the size difference of Johnstown. However, he and the coaching staff made some changes to keep the game close, but also knew the Trojans had strong leadership from the coaching staff and its senior players.
“We had to adjust to their speed. Once we adjusted to their speed, we were okay. But credit Johnstown, Tony (Penna Jr.) does a great job with those kids,” Janocko said.
Clearfield got the ball to start the second half, but quickly had to punt. The next drive, Johnstown did not waste any time.
It all began on the punt as Exree Loe, who leads Johnstown in all-purpose yards, had his breakout play thanks to a 59-yard punt return that set up the Trojans with 1st-and-10 at the Bison 15-yard line.
Three plays later, Loe found the end zone thanks to a pass from Barber. Barber’s second touchdown pass put Johnstown ahead once again, but unfortunately Marino saw his kick attempt go right, leaving a window open for Clearfield to get the lead.
Knowing the opportunity was there, the Bison took to the field, and began doing exactly what they did late in the first half. Bit by bit, yardage was earned, and first downs achieved. More importantly, time was ticking away, and it looked as though the clock was in the favor of the Bison. The 14-play drive concluded when Seth Caldwell, who was relatively quiet in the first half and only had 71 yards on the ground, broke loose for a 14-yard touchdown.
Serena added the extra point, and entering the fourth quarter, Clearfield held a slim one-point lead, 21-20.
The next drive gave momentum back to Clearfield in a big way, as Taye Lynch snagged an interception right near mid-field, giving the Bison an opportunity to expand the lead and put more pressure on the Trojan offense. But, as quickly as the momentum arrived, it evaporated. Four plays later, Rumery saw his pass get picked off by Tinsley, and give life back to the Johnstown sideline.
Luckily for the Bison, the ensuing drive would end with a punt, but the ball just as quickly went back to the Trojans after a three-and-out.
This time, Johnstown found a small hole to work with. Beginning at the Bison 48, Barber launched another bomb downfield, and this time found Loe for a major 42-yard gain. One play later, Tinsley took the end-around into the end zone, giving the Trojans back the lead.
Barber was stopped short on the two-point conversion, so the window was still open for Clearfield to regain the lead, and avenge the loss of a year ago.
With 4:47 left in the game, Clearfield got the ball for possibly their last chance to get the lead back.
A run by Rumery got the first down to start things off, and four plays later a key pass to Luke McGonigal on fourth down moved the chains. But then, things started slowing down. First came an incomplete pass to Lezzer, then a two-yard plunge by Caldwell. Rumery then tossed another incomplete pass, and just as quickly it was 4th and 8.
Rumery looked over the middle of the field, sensing a chance with Lezzer on the post. But, Tinsley stepped in front of the route, and the drive ended on the second Bison turnover.
Clearfield used it’s final two timeouts on the ensuing possession, forcing a 3rd and 4 to either force a punt, or ice the game. Bryce Gibson would get the call on the play, and he was wrapped up quickly, but not before he was stretched enough to gain six yards. At that moment, with two kneel downs following, the game concluded, and the Bison saw their season come to an end.
In defeat, Janocko was humble, and looked at the positives of the night, knowing that his team is losing some leadership, but also knew his team experienced a great season, and a great game, even if the score wasn’t how they all envisioned.
“Our young quarterback played his tail off tonight. He was under pressure a lot, and he’s only going to get better. Ryan Lezzer had a great night, and Seth Caldwell ran the ball real hard,” he said. “We did everything we wanted to do, except we didn’t win.”
Clearfield ends the season at 10-2, while Johnstown moves into the first round of PIAA playoffs.
EXTRA NOTES: Senior Seth Caldwell finished 2016 with 1279 yards rushing. He finishes his career with 4439 yards rushing, second all-time to Dave Richards (4639) and is third in career rushing touchdowns (46) behind Richards (69) and Christian Lezzer (67)…Isaac Rumery finishes with 1957 yards passing this season, third behind Chad Kroell (3224) and Derrick Yohe (2137) for passing yards in a single season.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Johnstown 14 0 6 6 – 26
Clearfield 0 14 7 0 – 21
TROJANS: 26-yard pass from Barber to Tinsley (Marino kick), 9:15
TROJANS: 17-yard run by Barber (Marino kick), 3:27
BISON: 1-yard run by Caldwell (Serena kick), 10:30
BISON: 15-yard pass from Rumery to Heichel (Serena kick), 2:32
TROJANS: 8-yard pass from Barber to Loe (Marino kick WIDE RIGHT), 8:39
BISON: 14-yard run by Caldwell (Serena kick), 2:26
TROJANS: 6-yard run by Gibson (Barber run FAILED), 4:47
First Downs: 11/13
Rush Yards: 91/111
Pass Yards: 225/110
Total Yards: 316/221
Time of Possession: 19:30/28:30
Johnstown: Gibson-9 carries, 52 yards, TD; Barber-9 carries, 30 yards, TD; Jordan–Mainess-2 carries, 6 yards; Loe-1 carry, 5 yards; Team-2 carries, (-2) yards.
Clearfield: Caldwell-21 carries, 71 yards, 2 TD; Rumery-14 carries, 32 yards; Lezzer-1 carry, 6 yards; Glass-1 carry, 2 yards.
Johnstown: Barber-11 for 16, 225 yards, 2 TD, INT; Loe-0 for 1.
Clearfield: Rumery-12 for 26, 110 yards, TD, 2 INT.
Johnstown: Loe-4 catches, 92 yards, TD; Tinsley-3 catches, 64 yards, TD; Jordan–Mainess-3 catches, 57 yards; Brehm-1 catch, 12 yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-4 catches, 38 yards; McGonigal-4 catches, 18 yards; Heichel-3 catches, 47 yards, TD; Caldwell-1 catch, 7 yards.
Final Bison Scoreboard:
|08/26||@ DuBois||20 – 30||0 – 1|
|09/02||@ Penns Valley||21 – 7||1 – 1|
|09/09||CENTRAL||30 – 28||2 – 1|
|09/16||@ Huntingdon||35 – 21||3 – 1|
|09/23||CENTRAL MOUNTAIN||28 – 7||4 – 1|
|09/30||BELLEFONTE||28 – 0||5 – 1|
|10/07||@ Tyrone||22 – 3||6 – 1|
|10/14||@ Bald Eagle Area||37 – 0||7 – 1|
|10/21||PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA||49 – 0||8 – 1|
|10/28||KARNS CITY||35 – 28||9 – 1|
|11/04||District 5,6,9 Semifinals|
|11/04||vs. Bellefonte||34 – 7||10 – 1|
|11/11||District 5,6,9 Finals|
|11/11||vs. Johnstown (@ Hollidaysburg)||21 – 26||10 – 2|