The second season of high school football has kicked into high gear as the state playoffs are set to get under way this weekend. The top teams from all classes are ready to do battle to decide who is the best in Pennsylvania. Despite the winter sports season drawing near, as basketball seasons are set to get rolling in a of couple weeks, the focus has continued to be on football, as victories mean continuing towards that dream, and losses mean the end of the road.
For the Clearfield Bisons, that goal of making the state playoffs nearly ended last Saturday afternoon. But thanks to a late touchdown, and the defense holding off in the waning seconds, that dream became a reality as the Bisons took down the District VI champion Johnstown Trojans by a final of 29-23.
This week, Clearfield will have to take on it’s first game in the state playoffs as they are going head-to-head against the Shamokin Area Indians.
Shamokin enters this game with a record of 5-7, but has made the state playoffs thanks to a victory last week over Milton by a final of 21-20. However, they enter this game as a big underdog as Clearfield boasts a record of 11-1.
Clearfield comes into this game with one of the toughest offenses to slow down, as they are averaging 290 yards a game on the ground. Add in the 63 yards average passing, it means they are a run first, pass when necessary, type of offense. Head coach Tim Janocko does say that despite the lopsided statistics, when they do pass the ball, it has been extremely effective.
Quarterback Curtis Frye has experienced a lower-than-average season through the air, going only 35 of 111 for 734 yards, but it doesn’t change the fact that he is a very potent playmaker in the passing game.
He has nine touchdowns compared to six interceptions on the year, and is capable of getting the deep pass down the field with the best of them.
Frye is also capable of breaking the ball loose on the ground. The option offense that Clearfield has employed this year has been effective, and Frye has been one of the four star runners. He has seven touchdowns on the ground, and has taken the weight off the top performers in the run game for the Bisons.
However, there is no question that all eyes once again will be on Beau Swales. The senior running back has run wild all season long, and has continued that in the playoffs. Swales is only 162 yards away from having a 2000-yard rushing season, and he could very well get that total on Friday night.
His average per game is 153 yards, and he has already gone for over 200 yards three times this season.
Couple the fact that Shamokin has been struggling defensively with the run, and it could mean that Swales could have another career day on the turf.
Watch out as well for Christian Lezzer, as the option offense has given him the chance to break loose a few strong runs to take some pressure and focus off of Swales. Lezzer has a greater average yards-per-carry than Swales, 9.1 compared to 7.1, and has the second-highest amount of rushing touchdowns on the team with 11.
Lezzer also has the most receiving yards for Clearfield this season with 314, and has three receiving touchdowns to his credit.
The players that could make a big difference, and bring about some big momentum swings, in this game could be Robbie Myers and Dylan Graham. Myers has been the top touchdown receiver on the team with four, while Graham has been the top secondary player on the team, grabbing five interceptions. Earlier this season, Janocko made a swap in his secondary, moving Frye to play cornerback and Graham moved into the safety position.
It has paid off as Graham has made some huge grabs to bring Clearfield back in some games, and also halted the momentum of the opponents.
Shamokin is coming in as the underdog in this game, but they are capable of pulling off the upset over the Bisons. Despite only being ranked fourth in the Heartland I conference, they earned a berth in the playoffs and picked up their game the last two weeks to get to this point. Momentum has come their way, and could be huge if the team starts rolling early in the game.
The Indians have a young quarterback in sophomore Sean McLaughlin, but there is plenty of experience in the other positions. Senior Ryan Burns is ready to take charge on offense at running back, and McLaughlin has four senior wide receivers to go to in Jarrod Shurock, Devin Madara, Josh Dunn and Evan Jamison.
If all of these young men can get momentum on their side early, it will put Clearfield in a position they have only seen a few times this season, and that’s having to come from behind.
The playoffs kick into high gear on Friday night. For the second time this year in the post season, E.J. Mansell Stadium in Dubois will be the site where a playoff game will take place. Kickoff will be on Friday night at 7 p.m.