HYDE — Playoff time in high school football showcases the elite teams, as there are no “gimme games” after the regular season. Every yard, every down, every point is a battle. The Clearfield Bison earned their spot by going into each game knowing full well none were those kind of games, playing each as if it was a playoff. Now, when a loss means the season ends, it was time to put everything they earned on the line each week.
The first round of the PIAA playoffs would land Clearfield once again in the District 5-6-8-9 Subregional bracket. As the No. 1 seed, they had the advantage of hosting the first game at the Bison Sports Complex. Across the field hoping to pull the upset were the Johnstown Trojans, who were coming off a loss in their regular-season finale.
In a game that was expected to see the offenses make the biggest plays, in reality it was defense and special teams that made the biggest difference. The Bison forced five turnovers, three of which were followed up by touchdowns, and a score on special teams, were the highlights as Clearfield continues its undefeated season with a 42-7 victory.
“We controlled the line of scrimmage. I thought our offensive line was outstanding. We moved the ball consistently, we ran the ball well and threw the ball well. Defensively, we were again able to control the line, and I think our secondary played really well,” Bison Head Coach Tim Janocko said after the contest.
His Bison were strong on both sides of the ball, putting up over 300 yards of offense, but also coming up with two fumble recoveries and three interceptions. But the star on this night was senior Tyler Stratton – but not because of his play on offense. His night would only see him have 48 yards on the ground plus another 30 in receiving. What made his night was his fumble return for a touchdown, and a kickoff return for a touchdown that ultimately shifted momentum.
“It was a great game. Our blockers did what they were supposed to do on the kick return. I took full advantage of it, and it felt great,” Stratton said afterward.
The turnovers allowed Clearfield to hold Johnstown to just 236 yards of total offense, allowing only eight first downs.
Meanwhile, on offense it was Christian Lezzer with another strong night at quarterback, which was where he spent all game for the second straight week. Lezzer ran for a game-high 133 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman Seth Caldwell racked up another 45 yards on the ground with a pair of touchdowns.
Momentum for the Bison was taken on just the second play of the game. Trojans quarterback Jeremy Updyke went back to pass on second down, but the pass did not cross the line of scrimmage. In fact, it actually went in reverse. Seeing that, Stratton was quick to see the miscue and scooped up the ball at the 15-yard line, taking the loose ball back to the end zone for the first defensive score by Clearfield since their victory over Central Mountain. Spencer Herrington booted the extra point, and not even a minute into the game it was 7-0.
Johnstown could not get anything going on their second possession, and punted to the Bison. On the first true drive for the Clearfield offense, it was just a matter off running the ball at the defense, trying to make the Trojans stop it. Stratton broke free on the second play for a 45-yard scamper, and in the end Lezzer capped it off with a 1-yard run across the goal line. The extra point made it 14-0, where it remained heading into the second quarter.
Clearfield’s best drive of the game happened after their defense again made a stop, as it would be a long 11-play drive that started at their own four. Two deep passes to Stratton and Seth Ford, combined with the running of Lezzer, Caldwell and Ford, allowed Clearfield to eat up six minutes of play. Caldwell would cap it off with his first touchdown of the night. Another extra point and it was 21-0.
The Trojans did start to make gains on the next drive, getting deep into Clearfield territory. But they were forced to make a choice on a 4th and 4. Originally looking to kick the field goal, the sidelines called time out and instead opted to go for it. Quarterback Wuanyai Mayo would line up in the gun and aim down the left side of the field towards the end zone. Stratton was there in coverage, and reeled in the interception with one hand. The turnover ended what was a promising drive.
Unfortunately for Clearfield, they would make their own mistake on the next drive. On 1st and 10 from the Trojans 42, Lezzer broke free for a huge gain, but then had the ball stripped from his hands.
Two plays later, Updyke made the Clearfield defense pay. He threw a bomb down the right sideline to Kareem Gibson, one that he pulled in and then sped to the end zone. The 85-yard pass was the longest Clearfield had given up all season, this one leading to a touchdown. The extra point made the score 21-7.
“We knew that they would be tough; they have athletes, and I’ve said it all along. All week, watching film, it showed. They have athletes on that team,” Janocko said.
Johnstown had seemingly gotten the momentum back, but on the kickoff had a penalty of kicking the ball out of bounds. Rather than take the ball at the 35, Janocko decided to move the ball back five yards and have the Trojans re-kick.
That decision in the end would put Clearfield firmly in control, as the second boot went right to Stratton, who from his own 13 followed his blockers to the left, and found the seam. With only the kicker to beat, he poured on the speed and there was no turning back. The 87-yard touchdown return would be the first by Stratton all year, and with Herrington’s extra point the score was 28-7 heading into the break. On the sidelines, Lezzer could be heard telling Stratton, “Thank you for saving me,” as his return almost erased the miscue he had on the drive prior.
Clearfield would get the ball to start the second half, but was forced to punt. However, it didn’t take long to see the Bison offense get the ball back, as on the second play for Johnstown it would be Ryan Lezzer picking off Updyke, which would be his third interception on the night as he threw one on the Trojans’ final play of the first half.
The ensuing drive would see strictly running plays, and it would be Caldwell capping the drive with his second touchdown of the game. Herrington was true on the kick, and the score would be 35-7 heading into the final quarter.
Johnstown’s final turnover came on the first drive of the final stanza, this one coming on a strip-sack of Updyke, who lost the ball deep in his own territory, specifically on his own 3-yard line. Clearfield wasted little time in making the turnover become points, as Lezzer would get his second touchdown of the night two plays later on a 1-yard rumble. Herrington’s extra point made the score 42-7, ultimately being the final score of the night and putting the running clock into motion.
Clearfield now stands on the year at 11-0, and the graduating class now has the right to say they have not lost a game at the Bison Sports Complex whether it was on the old grass field or the turf, and will go in the record books as one of the winningest classes in Bison history. But, despite that, Janocko says they are not done yet.
“They just keep adding to their resumes. Hopefully next week we can add more,” Janocko said.
For Clearfield, the next task comes next week against the winner of the other game in the District 5-6-8-9 bracket, the Somerset Eagles, who had to hold on for the 28-20 victory over University Prep. Both Janocko and Stratton agree that the game will be a challenge, but one they are going to be ready for.
“It will be a barn burner, should be a great game,” Janocko said.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work, focus, and all of us sticking together to win,” Stratton said.
The game will be played at a neutral site next week on either Friday night or Saturday. Announcements as to the location and time will come over the weekend.
The Class AAA Subregional championship has been officially set. The game between the Somerset Eagles (10-1) and the Clearfield Bison (11-0) will be on Friday night with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. The game will be played at Hollidaysburg.
Directions to the stadium will be posted on ClearfieldFootball.org during the week.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Johnstown 0 7 0 0 – 7
Clearfield 14 14 7 7 – 42
BISON: 15-yard fumble return by Stratton (Herrington kick), 11:08
BISON: 1-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 7:05
BISON: 7-yard run by Caldwell (Herrington kick), 10:55
TROJANS: 85-yard pass from Updyke to Jones (Litvin kick), 4:16
BISON: 87-yard kickoff return by Stratton (Herrington kick), 4:00
BISON: 5-yard run by Caldwell (Herrington kick), 4:19
BISON: 1-yard run by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 10:10
First Downs: 8/18
Rush Yards: 107/274
Pass Yards: 129/50
Total Yards: 236/324
Time of Possession: 23:34/24:26
Johnstown: Braxton-10 carries, 81 yards; Updyke-8 carries, (-19) yards; Miller-5 carries, 25 yards; Ta. Jones-2 carries, 4 yards; Te. Jones-2 carries, 4 yards; Noon-1 carry, 21 yards; Conner-1 carry, 9 yards; Price-1 carry, 3 yards; Team-1 carry, (-11) yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-16 carries, 133 yards, 2 TD; Ford-11 carries, 61 yards; Caldwell-10 carries, 45 yards, 2 TD; Shimmel-3 carries, 2 yards; Stratton-2 carries, 48 yards (15-yard fumble return TD, 87-yard kickoff return TD); Sellers-1 carry, 1 yard; Team-1 carry, (-16) yards.
Johnstown: Updyke-7 for 25, 129 yards, TD, 2 INT; Mayo-0 for 1, INT; Team-0 for 1.
Clearfield: Lezzer-3 for 5, 50 yards.
Johnstown: Gibson-3 catches, 96 yards, TD; Andrews-1 catch, 14 yards; Robinson-1 catch, 12 yards; Ta. Jones-1 catch, 5 yards; Te. Jones-1 catch, 2 yards.
Clearfield: Stratton-2 catches, 30 yards; Ford-1 catch, 20 yards.