KEYSER, WV — A new season has arrived in Pennsylvania, at least when it comes to a sports season. A long summer has passed by, and finally it is back to school for the kids, and that means back to football.
The summer workouts have finished, the scrimmages have been played, and now the time has arrived to go for victory under the Friday night lights. For the Clearfield Bison, that means another quest for a District IX championship, and it started on Friday night. But, the season did not start out in Pennsylvania. Instead, the Bison loaded up the buses for the team and the coaches, along with another for fans, and headed south west to West Virginia.
Nestled in the mountains of Keyser, the home Golden Tornado welcomed in a team they hadn’t faced, and for the first time would start their quest for a championship not only out of town, but out of state.
Their opposition was big, but the challenge awaited. The game started out promising, and surprising, on both sides of the field. The competitive side of each squad came out. After 48 minutes of action, statistically, the teams were very evenly matched. However, in this case, it was a tale of two halves.
In the beginning, the Bison were rolling, surprising the home group with banzai plays that shocked the home crowd. But, the final 24 minutes were dominated by a ground game, special teams, and a strong and overpowering Golden Tornado defense, and that spelled doom for Clearfield. At the final whistle, for the first time since 2011, the Bison were on the losing end of a regular-season game as they fell 43-30 to Keyser.
It started out promising, as the Bison won the opening toss, and elected to defer to the second half. But, in a surprise to many, Keyser instead of opting to receive the ball decided to kick off and go on defense to start the game.
The Bison started out with small runs to test the defense a bit, and were finding some success on the outside, moving the ball from their own 27 out to mid-field. But then, that is when head coach Tim Janocko elected to open up and go for the skies.
Junior quarterback Cody Spaid went back to pass, and he found sophomore Ryan Lezzer, the younger brother of last year’s Clearfield quarterback and now Boston College linebacker Christian Lezzer, on the sidelines behind the secondary for a monster 49-yard touchdown pass just two minutes into the game. Spencer Herrington nailed the extra point, and it was an early 7-0 lead for the visitors.
What would be the real test would be how the Bison defense matched up against Keyser, considering the size difference between the lineman was close to 40 pounds on average. What then happened was the Bison actually got the push they needed to not only keep the Golden Tornado in check, but forced a 3-and-out, and out came the offense once again.
The Bison again used the ground game to try and establish some momentum, but on 3rd and 15 following a penalty, Spaid once again managed to find Lezzer for a 50-yard gain out to mid-field.
Two plays later, the two hooked up once again for another major touchdown pass, this one from 48 yards out. Another kick through the uprights, and it was 14-0 halfway through the first quarter. But, the Bison were not done.
One play after kickoff, Keyser quarterback Ryan Streets suddenly found himself on the wrong end of a pass, as it was intercepted by Jake Wingate, who brought the ball back to the Tornado 11 and set the Bison up for a 1st and 10 with a short field.
Unfortunately, the Keyser defense held the offense in check, but Herrington made sure the Bison didn’t come up empty, as he booted a 22-yard field goal to put the squad up 17-0, and stunning the homestanding crowd to near silence.
But, the silence didn’t last long as Keyster then put together a 10 play, 80 yard drive that would eat up the final five minutes of the opening quarter, which was capped off with Streets connecting to Hunter Kasmier for a 24-yard touchdown pass. Jose Morales booted the extra point, making the score 17-7 entering the second quarter of play.
Unfortunately for the Bison, it didn’t start off very well as their other quarterback, senior Eric Sellers, was sacked on second down and following both an incomplete pass and false start, Clearfield had to punt the ball. It didn’t take long for Keyser to capitalize because junior fullback Cody Rodeheaver put up a 43-yard burst on the first play of the ensuing drive, putting the ball just outside the goal line. The next play he punched it in for his first touchdown of the game.
One more extra point, and it was a 17-14 game with 10:34 left in the half.
Still, Clearfield didn’t give up, and answered right back. After pushing the ball to the Tornado 40, they were faced with 4th and 4. Instead of punting, Janocko decided to gamble and send his offense back out on the field. That would pay dividends as Sellers would take the snap, and went back to pass. He would find Nick Kovalick running the sidelines, and would connect for a huge touchdown pass. Herrington had his kick blocked, but the 23-14 score gave the visiting Bison some breathing room.
To finish off the first-half scoring, the Bison would go ground-and-pound on their final drive of the half. Starting at their own 33, they would rely on Sellers, Spaid, and Seth Caldwell to eat up some yardage. But, with the ball on the Tornado 23, Spaid went for the pass, and once again found Lezzer for the third touchdown pass between the two on the night. Herrington added the extra point, and heading into the halftime break, Clearfield held a shocking 30-14 advantage.
But, when the teams emerged from the locker room, it all changed.
Clearfield again got the ball to start the half since they had the option, but the Keyser defense held them to just three plays, forcing the punt. What happened on the next drive was moments of glory for the offense, and frustration from the defense. On 2nd and 11, Streets connected with Vinnie Cuthbertson for a 34 yard gain, putting the ball in Clearfield territory. The defense began to hold up, but after another first down the Bison were getting worn down. One play later, Timothy Biser was tackled in the backfield, but some jawing from the Bison defense resulted in a taunting penalty. The 15-yard gift set the Golden Tornado inside the 10, and four plays later Streets would score.
He would also add on the two-point conversion, making it a 30-22 game. But what it also did was put momentum in the home team’s favor, and they were not looking to let up.
After another drive by the Bison that saw them begin inside their own 1, they again were forced to punt. Luckily, the defense held on the ensuing drive, but could not do anything when they got the ball back. Unfortunately, the play that would change the entire dynamic of the game was about to happen.
After Herrington was forced to punt from his own end zone, he boomed the ball to the awaiting Garrett Crites. He would take the ball at his own 44, and in front of him was a wall of black and yellow. That wall opened up a hole down the sidelines and he was gone. The 56-yard return added another six points to the board.
Streets went for the conversion, and connected in the back of the end zone, tying up the game at 30 a piece with 11:18 remaining.
Clearfield was still trying to get some offense going, but neither Sellers nor Spaid had any luck on the ensuing drive, and all the while their teammates were getting tired, and appeared to be cramping up. Herrington once again was forced to punt back to Keyser, who took over at the Clearfield 38 after yet another strong kickoff return by Keyser that was negated only by a block in the back.
On the ensuing drive, it was fundamental football, as it was the offensive line pushing back Clearfield every play for chunks of yards, and eating up time on the clock. Rodeheaver would finish the drive with a 2-yard plunge to the goal line, and Morales booted the extra point to give Keyser their first lead on the night.
The Bison looked for momentum on the next drive, as Spaid was able to connect with Josh Sorbera over the middle to give them a reasonable fourth down attempt, but Spaid’s ensuing pass went off the hands of Lezzer, and gave Keyser the ball back.
It only took one play to seal the deal for the Golden Tornado, as Streets gave the ball to Codeheaver and he did the rest, as his 38-yard run to the end zone would be the final scoring play of the night. Morales added the extra point to make it a 43-30 score, where it remained until the final whistle.
This is the first loss for the Bison in the regular season since 2011 when they fell to Philipsburg-Osceola. But, Janocko knows that one game doesn’t make a season, and next week is another opportunity.
Clearfield (0-1) is back in Pennsylvania next Friday night, but will be on the road to face the Penns Valley Rams in Spring Mills.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 17 13 0 0 – 30
Keyser 7 7 8 21 – 43
BISON: 49-yard pass from Spaid to Lezzer (Herrington kick), 10:01
BISON: 48-yard pass from Spaid to Lezzer (Herrington kick), 7:24
BISON: 22-yard Field Goal by Herrington, 5:10
G. TORNADO: 24-yard pass from Streets to Kasmier (Morales kick), 0:01
G. TORNADO: 1-yard run by Rodeheaver (Morales kick), 10:32
BISON: 40-yard pass from Sellers to Kovalick (Herrington kick BLOCKED), 8:42
BISON: 23-yard pass from Spaid to Lezzer (Herrington kick), 1:08
G. TORNADO: 1-yard run by Streets (Crites run for 2-pt. conversion), 7:00
G. TORNADO: 55-yard Punt Return by Crites (Streets pass to Cuthbertson for 2-pt. conversion), 11:28
G. TORNADO: 2-yard run by Rodeheaver (Morales kick), 7:32
G. TORNADO: 38-yard run by Rodeheaver (Morales kick NO GOOD), 5:33
1st Downs: 9/15
Rush Yds: 37/311
Pass Yds: 311/57
Total Yds: 348/368
CLEARFIELD: Sellers-11 rushes, 28 yards; Wingate-1 rush, 13 yards; Lezzer-1 rush, 5 yards; Caldwell-8 rushes, 3 yards; Sorbera-1 carry, (-3) yards; Spaid-5 carries, (-9) yards.
KEYSER: Rodeheaver-20 carries, 195 yards, 3 TD; Crites-11 carries, 74 yards, Kasmier-13 carries, 40 yards; Turner-1 carry, 3 yards; Streets 1 carry, 1 yard, TD; Willis-2 carries, 0 yards; Team-2 carries, (-2) yards.
CLEARFIELD: Spaid-10 for 27, 260 yards, 3 TD, Int; Sellers- 1 for 1, 40 yards, 1 TD.
KEYSER: Streets-2 for 4, 57 yards, TD, Int.
CLEARFIELD: Lezzer-7 catches, 187 yards, 3 TD; Kovalick-1 catch, 40 yards, TD; Sorbera 1 catch, 31 yards; Folmar 1 catch, 29 yards, Sellers-1 catch, 13 yards.
KEYSER: Cuthbertson-1 catch, 34 yards; Kasmier-1 catch, 23 yards.