District IX Class AAA Championship: No. 2 St. Marys Dutchmen (5-4) vs. No. 1 Clearfield Bisons (9-1)

It has come down the big game.  The 10-week regular season concluded last Friday night for the majority of the high school football teams in the state.  Now, the focus becomes on winning to continue the season week by week.  One loss, and the season ends.

The Class AAA Championship in District IX will be decided Saturday as the No. 2 seed St. Marys Flying Dutchmen will put their post-season hopes on the line against the No. 1 seed Clearfield Bisons.

St. Marys is coming off a bye week in their schedule as last Friday, their scheduled opponent, Brockway, was competing against Port Allegany for the AML championship, which was won by Port Allegany.  So, the Dutchmen have been given an opportunity to relax their legs, get more time on the practice field, and get prepared by watching more film on their opponents.

Despite having three more losses, St. Marys has attained strong statistics in their nine-game stretch.

To characterize the Dutchmen, it can be summed up in six words:  run the ball, pass when needed.  St. Marys has an average of 240 yards rushing per game, and only an average of 31 yards passing per game.  That could make for a quick night as running the ball will take time off the clock, which will take away the time Clearfield has possession.

Rushing the ball, the key player to take notice of is Cody Baker.  By far, the junior fullback has been the workhorse on the ground.  Baker averages just over seven yards per carry.  That kind of yardage has given him nearly 1200 yards on the season with 12 touchdowns.

However don’t be surprised if Justin Quiggle and David Aul get some carries in the game to take some stress off Baker.  That could open the door for him to break one after taking a breather on the sidelines.

Quiggle also has the most passing yards this season, albeit only 162 yards, so when needed St. Marys could go to the air.

But, the big test won’t be when they are on offense.  It will be when they are on defense trying to stop a powerful Bison offense that has steamrolled through the 2011 season, winning games the old-school way.

The Bisons average nearly 293 yards a game rushing, which was different for Clearfield than they were at this time last season.  Entering last year’s District IX Class AAA championship against Punxsutawney, Clearfield was a pass-heavy offense, but also had a solid ground game.  That led them to the victory over the Chucks, and continued their historic 13-1 campaign.

This year, the ground attack has been the heart of the Bisons.  The leader in that category, senior running back Beau Swales.

The big man in the backfield is only 32 yards away from a 1500-yard season, and is averaging 146.8 yards a game.  His 20 touchdowns are a team high, and he has been the workhorse of the team the entire year.

When the ball isn’t in his grasp, both Christian Lezzer and Ryan Hertlein have been key in continuing the ground and pound game plan, as the two have a combined 15 rushing touchdowns.  This takes away some of the load on Swales, and has given the defense fits as all three backs have been able to break loose for long runs.

Although the ground game has been the story for Clearfield this year, quarterback Curtis Frye can still sling a pass with the best of them.

He is only 43 of 100 this year, passing for 723 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions.  It may be lower-than-average statistics for the senior signal caller, but it is not a bad year when he has thrown for 4,330 yards in his career.  Still, they are impressive numbers for the Clearfield quarterback.

Part of the reason is that the ground game has quickly run up the score in the first half, and when it hits a certain point, the Mercy Rule makes the game end quicker, so the Bisons didn’t need to pass as much.

But, with the game happening on a turf field this week, the passing game could be a difference should Clearfield get it rolling.

A title is on the line, and playoff hopes will continue for one team, while the other will see a successful season come to an end.  Unlike previous weeks, this game will not be contested under the bright Friday night lights.  Instead, it will be a Saturday afternoon matinee for the fans of Clearfield and St. Marys.

The Class AAA Championship for District IX will kickoff at 1 p.m. Saturday at the E.J. Mansell Stadium in Dubois.

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