HOLLIDAYSBURG — Nearly a year ago to the day, the Clearfield Bison entered the regional playoff hoping to continue their season yet another week, only to end up short. The team and coaches made no excuses for losing, but vowed to be back and ready to make another playoff run for the 2013 season.
Fast forward to this year, the Bison would go undefeated for the second consecutive year, achieve another District IX title, and make it back to the District 5-6-8-9 championship. This year, the opponent would be the Somerset Golden Eagles, who were coming off an upset of the team that beat Clearfield one year ago to win that championship, University Prep. Both teams wanted to continue their season, but knew the task would be difficult. It would be a one-loss team against an undefeated team on the turf at Tiger Stadium in Hollidaysburg.
After 48 minutes, the memory of a year ago would be erased. The Bison would hold the Eagles to just 193 total yards, and capitalized on five turnovers to take the 21-6 victory, winning the District 5-6-8-9 championship and advancing to the PIAA state playoffs.
“We want to keep going. It’s my favorite time of the year because this is what we work for,” Janocko said afterward.
The passion of the Bison was shown on the field as their star players would have big plays when needed, but also got help from their younger players when duty called. It would be a big night for Christian Lezzer, finishing with a team-high 169 yards rushing, another 31 yards passing, and two touchdowns. Tyler Stratton would end his night with 117 yards on the ground with a touchdown, the first time he and Lezzer both went over 100 yards rushing in nearly a month.
Defensively, it was not the big names that made the big plays, but the underclassmen, as it would be Jake Wingate that made the biggest impact. He would intercept two passes by Tanner Stull, and also recover a fumble.
“He’s a sophomore. It’s amazing because last year in this game he had to start as a freshman because we had an injury, but boy what a game he had tonight. Real proud of him,” Janocko said.
Not wanting to be hemmed in all night, Stull did have a solid game rushing, going for 92 yards and a touchdown. But the turnovers were what doomed the Eagles from the opening drive.
“It was a combination of things; we had field position in what seemed like the whole first half, and that really helped out a lot,” Janocko said.
Clearfield would actually make the first mistake of the night. After holding Somerset to a three-and-out, the Bison would go to work from their own 35, and moved into Eagle territory after just four plays. But then the Bison would give up a sack, and two plays later Lezzer made a bad judgement on a pass, which was intercepted.
However, the Bison defense made up for it as they would force a punt on the ensuing drive.
The next drive for the Bison would take up a lot of time on the clock, but also needed a little help to make it happen. On 3rd and 7, Lezzer looked for his brother, Ryan, but the pass fell incomplete. However, the defensive back for the Eagles would get too close for comfort and officials called pass interference, giving new life to the drive. Three plays later, the Bison offense would get another gift, as Lezzer took a draw play to the left, and after running out of bounds would get plowed over by an Eagle defender, getting hit so hard he was thrown to the hard surface of the running track.
A 15-yard personal foul penalty moved the ball into the red zone, but a holding penalty and false start pushed the ball back again.
That was when the Lezzers made what could be the play of the game. Christian made a roll to the right, then back to the left and appeared ready to run for the sticks. But then he looked over the secondary and threw the ball deep, right into the wide open hands of his brother. The 28-yard pass would be the first score of the game, and the addition of Spencer Herrington’s extra point made the score 7-0.
“When I saw the corner come up, I knew I had to dump it off. Line played great, defense played great. We executed our game plan to perfection,” Christian said after the game.
Janocko also talked about the passing touchdown, talking about how they practice for such an instance.
“We call it scramble drill. I think they were so worried about him running, with his running ability, that they came up on him and he found his brother,” Janocko said.
After swapping punts, the Bison defense would come up big on the first play for the Eagles in the second quarter. Stull went back to pass again, looking for Raven Beeman, but instead saw Wingate jump in front of the pass, giving the ball back to the Bison.
The ensuing drive would not lead to any points, but the momentum could be seen being taken away with the mistake.
Clearfield would not get on the board again till 5:25 left in the half. It would be Stratton capping off a six-play, 52-yard drive with an 11-yard dive into the end zone. The extra point made it 14-0.
It wouldn’t be until the final drive of the first half that Somerset seemed to get momentum, but when they arrived at midfield, things went from bad to worse. They would enter Bison territory, but after a tackle for loss, one of their lineman started jawing with the Bison defense, and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. One play later, Ryan Lezzer would intercept Stull’s pass down the sideline, ending the drive, and giving the Bison the two-score lead heading to the break.
“Clearfield got the ball to start the second half, but were stopped on fourth down on the drive despite strong runs by Lezzer and Stratton. Then, on their second drive of the third quarter, the Lezzer brothers tried to hook up again, but instead the pass would get intercepted by Zachary Baker.
The ensuing drive would see the Eagles march down the field from their own 21 to find the end zone for the first time on the night. Stull called his own number on 1st and 10 from the Bison 12 and took the ball in for the touchdown. Samuel Hayward’s extra point was blocked, leaving the score 14-6 entering the fourth quarter.
With one quarter to play, the Bison needed an answer in some way, hoping to make it a two-possession game with little time on the clock. How they did it was simple; Clearfield went back to the ground game to wear down the defense.
Lezzer, Stratton, Seth Caldwell and Seth Ford all got running duty on the drive, but it was a 34-yard burst from Stratton that put Clearfield within striking distance. With the ball on the two-yard line, Stratton tried to move the pile, but had no luck. Lezzer then tried on second down, gaining a yard. He tried again on third down, but was stuffed. The offense tried to hurry to the line, but a Somerset time out gave everyone a chance to regroup – at least it seemed.
Clearfield barely went to the sideline before the offense got back on the field. Lezzer got under center, took the snap, and was just able to find enough room on the left side to get into the end zone. Herrington’s kick made the game a two-possession contest once again.
“That was huge; we needed to do that. We felt at halftime we needed to score to win in the second half, and we were able to do that. We were able to bust a couple big runs there and were patient,” Janocko said.
Lezzer actually laughed at the touchdown, but had reason to.
“It wasn’t even the play call, we just said ‘Get on the line, we’re scoring,'” Lezzer said.
The final opportunity for Somerset to try and cut the gap down came with 3:07 left in the game, starting at their own 40. Stull struggled passing all night, only going 8-for-21, but on the drive would make big passes to Beeman and Douglas Berkebile, driving the ball into the red zone. But, like earlier in the game, the Bison defense made the play when needed.
On 2nd and 4, Stull looked left and went for it all, hoping to catch Beeman at the goal line. Instead, Wingate went for the jump ball, and came down with it at the Bison 1, his second interception on the night, third interception for the Clearfield defense, and the fourth overall turnover by Somerset. Clearfield would run the ball three straight plays, forcing Somerset to use their two remaining time outs, and earned a first down, sealing in the victory.
Clearfield’s magical season now stands at 12-0, and with the win means a trip to the PIAA state playoffs is earned. For Janocko, it’s his favorite time of year to be a coach, saying that this was what the team worked for all year long, and it’s the most fun part of the season.
“You know you get up there with your team in the snow and practicing, it’s what it’s all about,” Janocko said.
His quarterback echoed his statement, looking both back to last season’s loss and this season’s victory.
“Last year was a heartbreaking loss, we felt we should have gone farther than we did,” Lezzer said. “We had that on the back of our mind, but we wanted to win. This is what we work for.”
Clearfield takes its 12-0 record to the first round of the playoffs and will face Jersey Shore, who won its playoff game against Selinsgrove by a final of 20-16 to even their record at 6-6. The game will be played either Friday or Saturday at a neutral site. Details of the game will be updated over the weekend.
The first round of the PIAA State Playoffs have been set for Class AAA. Clearfield will take on the Jersey Shore Bulldogs this Friday night with kickoff at 7 p.m.
The game is going to be played at E.J. Mansell Stadium in Dubois.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Somerset 0 0 6 0 – 6
Clearfield 7 7 0 7 – 21
BISON: 28-yard pass from C. Lezzer to R. Lezzer (Herrington kick), 2:45
BISON: 11-yard run by Stratton (Herrington kick), 5:25
EAGLES: 12-yard run by Stull (Hayward kick BLOCKED), 0:15
BISON: 1-yard run by C. Lezzer (Herrington kick), 6:11
First Downs: 11/17
Rushing Yards: 136/299
Passing Yards: 57/31
Total yards: 193/330
Time of Possession: 15:54/32:06
Somerset: Stull-18 carries, 92 yards, TD; Boyer-4 carries, 35 yards; Barnes-3 carries, 14 yards; Faulkner-2 carries, (-2) yards; Team-1 carry, (-3) yards.
Clearfield: C. Lezzer-28 carries, 169 yards, TD; Stratton-20 carries, 117 yards, TD; Caldwell-6 carries, 14 yards, Ford-1 carry, 2 yards, Team-3 carries, (-3) yards.
Somerset: Stull-8 for 21, 57 yards, 3 INT; Barnes: 0 for 1.
Clearfield: C. Lezzer-2 for 11, 31 yards, TD, 2 INT.
Somerset: Beeman-3 catches, 19 yards; Berkebile-2 catches, 30 yards; Mostoller-2 catches, 9 yards; Baker-1 catch, 9 yards.
Clearfield: R. Lezzer-1 catch, 28 yards, TD; Stratton-1 catch, 3 yards.