District 5-6-8-9 Class AAA Regional Playoff Preview: Punxsutawney Chucks (5-5) at Clearfield Bison (10-0)

What do the title games for the NBA, NHL and MLB all have in common?  Each of these sports use a series to determine their championship, ironically all are seven games long at most.  This is exciting because teams can get behind but suddenly come back and make up ground.  There have been exciting game sevens in each of these sports, but it is almost a reprieve after a loss because unless the opposing team has won four games, there’s still a chance to come back and win.

That’s not the case with football.  In the NFL, then beginning next year with NCAA, and at the high school level, if a team loses in the playoffs, the season is over.

This week kicks off the post season for high school football, and it is starting off with a bang for two local teams.  The Class AAA District 5-6-8-9 regional bracket has two teams that are very familiar with each other taking the field on Friday night, both wanting to continue their strong seasons.

One side of the field is the Punxsutawney Chucks, whose 5-5 record was good enough to place second in the KSAC Large School division, but ended their regular season with a 27-21 heartbreaking loss against Northern Bedford.

On the opposing side of the field, the pride of the county, the Clearfield Bison, who secured a 10-0 record one week ago with a 49-0 rout of Bradford, and in doing so secured a third consecutive District IX championship.

Both squads are very familiar with one another, having last played in the 2010 District IX championship.  That night, it was then-running back Derek Morgan accounting for all four Bison touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving, one INT return) as Clearfield was victorious by a final of 26-14.  That year was the season the Bison would finish the season with a school record 13 wins.  Since then, the Bison have lost only one regular season game, and have taken home two more championships.

But, the Chucks are not worried about the past.  Instead, they are looking ahead and the challenge they face in the opening round of the playoffs.

Statistically, these two teams are going in with a similar game plan:  run the ball, run the clock, play strong defense.  The Chucks have done that very well this season to reach their .500 record.  The two young men that Clearfield must deal with the most are Jamie Bush and Christian Falgout.

First, Bush has the most yards on the ground through 10 games for Punxsutawney, 823.  He has seven touchdowns this year, and averages just over six yards per carry.  Second, Falgout has been able to be the other go-to back for the Chucks, as he’s ran for 674 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns, averaging over four yards a carry.

On average, the Chucks average 188 yards per game on the ground.  That is more than double what they average passing.

However, that’s not to say the passing game won’t be used.  Unlike last week, the weather is going to be better for passing quarterbacks, and the Chucks have one in Garrett Zimmerman.  Through 10 games, he has thrown for 896 yards, but has only completed 48 percent of his passes.  He has 12 touchdowns, but also has thrown eight interceptions.  This plays in the favor of the Bison as they have been strong in the secondary, especially when it comes to intercepting passes.

But, the Chucks will have just as hard of a time trying to stop a Bison offense that has simply been dominant from the get-go, especially the last three weeks.  Combined, the Bison beat Bald Eagle, Philipsburg-Osceola and Bradford by a combined score of 130-15, including last week’s shut out in the District IX Championship game.

The reason for that is a dominant run game.  The running of juniors Christian Lezzer and Tyler Stratton have been superb each game they have touched the ball.  While Lezzer is the leader of the team in rushing yards, 1167, it is Stratton that averages more yards per carry.  In fact, a week ago Lezzer set out to be sure his teammate eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season.  He did just that, and then some.  Stratton has 1,041 yards thus far this year, and leads the team with eight rushing touchdowns.

One difference between this game and last week’s contest will possibly be the fact that Lezzer will be able to have more of a chance to throw the ball.  The cold and rainy weather in Brockway limited him to just two pass attempts, but he completed one to Shawn Lord for a touchdown.  That was his 17th passing touchdown on the year.

Lezzer has 1,129 yards thus far passing, and he has only thrown five interceptions, one every two games.  For the Chucks, that means they must make the Bison make mistakes to have a chance at staying in the game.

It is win or see a season end for both squads, and both would like to make a run into the PIAA playoffs.  Friday night is the first step for either Punxsutawney or Clearfield to make that charge.

It will be a cold night at the Bison Sports Complex, so fans are encouraged to bundle up in layers and arrive early as there will likely be a huge crowd on hand for the beginning of post-season play.  Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Bison Scoreboard:

Date Opponent Score Record
08/31 ST. JOAN OF ARC 35 – 20 1 – 0
09/07 @ Penns Valley 47 – 0 2 – 0
09/14 CENTRAL 34 – 33 3 – 0
09/21 @ Huntingdon 41 – 24 4 – 0
09/28 CENTRAL MOUNTAIN 35 – 14 5 – 0
10/05 BELLEFONTE 49 – 14 6 – 0
10/12 @ Tyrone 14 – 13 7 – 0
10/19 @ Bald Eagle Area 49 – 8 8 – 0
10/26 PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA 42 – 7 9 – 0
D9 AAA Championship
11/02 vs. Bradford (at Brockway) 49 – 0 10 – 0
District 5-6-8-9 Regional


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