PIAA State Playoffs-Quarterfinal Round: Berwick Bulldogs (13-0) vs. Clearfield Bison (13-0)

bisonBlack Friday is the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season.  Many folks are looking for that hot deal on a Christmas gift to give away.  But, for those that would rather enjoy a Football Friday, the PIAA State Playoffs are providing folks in the Clearfield area a chance to have a possible early Christmas gift.

Last week, the Clearfield Bison football squad matched an historical number of wins after their victory over Jersey Shore, hitting the 13-win mark for just the second time in school history.  It is just the second trip to the PIAA State Quarterfinals for the Bison, with the last coming in 2010. However this has been the farthest the team has gone before falling.  It will not be an easy task once again this season as they will face their toughest challenge to date, as they will be going head-to-head against another unbeaten squad in the Berwick Bulldogs.

Berwick is coming off of a very slim 29-27 victory over Bethlehem Catholic, but to say that victory was easy would be completely wrong.

In fact, this team is ranked No. 6 by Pennsylvania Football News, and are doing so because of a balanced and strong offense.

It all centers around quarterback C.J. Curry, who has been exceptional under center this year for the Bulldogs.  To date, he has thrown for over 2000 yards, and has tossed 20 touchdowns compared to six interceptions.  At times the Bison defense has given up big plays in the secondary, so this is going to be a major test for them, especially with the secondary being so young.  They are going to have to defend against Andrew Force and Kyle Trentholm.  Force is the top receiver with 762 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, while Trentholm has 545 yards with six touchdowns.

At the same time, trying to defend the pass may open up the ground game for the Bulldogs.  They have two very tough runners out of the backfield that have been able to take some pressure off the passing game this season.

The bulk of the carries will likely come from Dain Kowalski, who leads the team with 856 yards rushing with 17 touchdowns.  But don’t be surprised if Jordan Stout also gets some strong runs, as he’s ran for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns thus far this season.

The Bison are capable of defending this kind of offense, as they have only averaged giving up just about 13 points per game thus far this year, with the most points given up coming against Tyrone in a 27-26 triumph.  However, if they are to win this game, they have to rely on what has gotten them to this point.  That being their strong running attack that has allowed them to average over 350 yards rushing per game.

Berwick will likely try to figure out how to corral Bison quarterback Christian Lezzer, who thanks to last week’s strong performance against Jersey Shore, went over 4000 career yards.  This year, a strong majority of that yardage has come on the ground.

Lezzer is only 105 yards away from hitting 2000 on the season, but getting that mark against the Bulldogs will be a challenge, but one he is certainly up to taking.  He has already committed to going to Boston College upon graduation, where he will be playing linebacker, so trying to take down a player of that size will be a challenge.

When he isn’t carrying the ball, it will be Tyler Stratton that will also have the focus.  He has 1218 yards thus far, including 20 touchdowns.  That mark seems high, but it is in fact remarkable because he’s been battling leg injuries all year long.  He was taken out of the first game to be safe, didn’t play against Bellefonte, and was knocked out early in the game against Tyrone.  But when he was healthy, he made up for it by running with purpose, dragging tacklers on occasion for those extra yards.

Clearfield can be considered a slight underdog for the first time all season, which is likely a good thing because it is giving the team more motivation, more reason to play their heart out with each play.

This game could be one of those that is a defensive struggle, or a lopsided affair.  It is unclear at this point, but what is a guarantee is that one team will have their season end with a one-loss record, while the other realizes that two more victories will equal a state championship.

Kickoff for the Bulldogs and the Bison is at 7 p.m. and will be played at Central Mountain High School, where the Bison have already won one game this season when they defeated the host Wildcats.

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