HYDE — Close games are ones that seem to bring out the most passion in football. The players are more excited for it, the coaches feed off the energy of the players, and the fans feed off the energy of the entire team. The Clearfield Bison have experienced many close games over the last few seasons, and the team savors the moment because those games are remembered.
For the first time in 2014, the Bison stepped onto the field of their own stadium, the Bison Sports Complex, and looked across the field at their opposition, a team that over the last few years has played them hard, and close, the Central Dragons.
Early on, it appeared as though the homestanding squad would be in for a tough night, but the herd dug in their cleats to make a charge. The Bison fought back from a three-touchdown hole to take the lead late, but could not maintain it with seconds remaining on the clock. When the scoreboard read all zeroes to end the game, the Bison faithful both on the turf and in the stands couldn’t believe what they had witnessed. It was a classic game between two great programs, but the Dragons breathed enough fire to secure the 35-28 victory, handing the Bison their second loss of the season and their first at home since the field went to turf in 2012.
Both coaches were impressed with how the game turned out, both on the winning side and on the losing side.
“It was a tough game. We got way ahead and they stormed back and took over in the middle part of the game. To score a couple times in the end makes it a good game and great win for us,” Central head coach Dave Baker said afterward. “We expected our players to play the whole game. That’s what you try to do.”
On the opposite side, Clearfield’s Tim Janocko was more toned down, unsure to make of what occurred before his eyes.
“We just came up on the short end. You always look back on one play here, one play there, and wonder had they went our way,” Janocko said. “That’s typical in a heartbreaker like this.”
Both teams had their strengths, with Clearfield having the advantage on the ground, gaining 186 yards while holding Central to just a single yard rushing. On the opposite end, Central had the advantage in passing, 390 yards to 124. But the Bison committed four turnovers in the contest, which put them in a hole that seemed hard to get out of.
It started quickly in the first quarter when Central’s Mike Mock went 3 for 3 in passing, finishing the opening drive in just over one minute with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Justin Helsel to make it a 7-0 contest. The Dragons would score in the same fashion on their second drive of the game, this time on a 12-yard pass and catch. Not even halfway into the first quarter it was a 14-0 game.
Clearfield’s woes got worse on the next possession as Cody Spaid’s pass was picked off by Helsel. The return was strong, but a personal foul penalty brought the ball back to the Dragon 23. It made little difference as the Central offense made their way back down the field, culminating the drive with a 1-yard dive to the end zone by Kaleb Weyant. Before anyone could catch their breath, it was 21-0, and still three quarters to play.
On the ensuing kickoff, Eric Sellers had the ball stripped of his grasp, causing the second turnover of the game. But, the Bison defense forced a turnover on downs. The Bison would punt on the ensuing possession, but it was the next one by Central that seemed to change everything.
After forcing the Dragons to set up for the punt, Mock, who normally is a quarterback, plays the long snapper on special teams. In this instance, his snap went beyond the punter, and the tackle in the backfield resulted in a short field for the Bison, who took over at the Central 17 after a 28-yard loss. It took just three plays and the Bison finally were on the scoreboard thanks to Seth Caldwell’s touchdown run and Spencer Herrington’s extra point.
It seemed as though the pendulum swung more to the Bison side as the next drive for Central stalled out again, and Clearfield would chew up a majority of the remaining clock before halftime trying to get a score in. After a long and methodical 16-play drive, Sellers would find Nick Kovalick for a 4-yard touchdown pass. The extra point made the halftime score 21-14, and began causing concern for Central.
“We were concerned in the locker room. You could tell they were stunned, and that the tide had turned, and they outplayed us in the second quarter. They started blocking us, and we couldn’t block them,” Baker said of his team when they went to the locker room.
Janocko at the same time was impressed with his team for their toughness to make it a one-score game at the break, saying, “When we got down 21-0, it was a credit to our kids to fight back.”
Clearfield got the opening kickoff in the third quarter, and the momentum they had entering the break continued. In this case, it continued to both gain yards on the ground, and retract time off the clock. The opening 12-play drive of the second half saw only two passes, but the second one was a streak from Spaid to Ryan Lezzer for a huge touchdown. The extra point made the score tied at 21, and suddenly had a feeling similar to the game between these two schools a year ago. Even Baker was having flashbacks to that game.
“It was exactly the same. We were pretty well in the first half, then had the bad snap on a punt, and it looked like it at that point turned a little bit,” Baker said. “It didn’t look good at that point for us.”
Another stalled out drive gave Clearfield the ball back heading into the fourth quarter, and the home squad was looking to repeat what had occurred the previous drive. This time, it was nothing but pounding the turf with Caldwell and Sellers to put time off the clock and more yards on the stat sheet. Sellers was able to finish the drive off with his touchdown run to put the Bison ahead for the first time all game long with a 28-21 score.
But, with 10:21 still on the clock, Central had a lot of time to make something happen. They would do just that on the very next drive as the Dragons used their other quarterback, Noah Benton, to put up some big yardage, ending the drive with a 38-yard touchdown strike to Nick Hoenstine. Unfortunately for the Dragons, the extra point was blocked, and the 28-27 score kept the home team in the lead and fired up.
With 6:55 left, the Bison knew there was a lot of time to do something, but rather than try and get a quick score to put them up by seven or eight points, they wanted to eat up as much time as possible before attempting that. Caldwell and Sellers both started to put the cleats to work beginning at their own 44, Clearfield started eating up yards, and were doing so at a strong pace. But when they entered the red zone, things faltered. The Dragon defense began digging in hard, and forced Clearfield into a 4th and 4 at the 20. Sellers would call his own number, and try as he might, he would be stopped short, turning the ball over on downs, and leading to a drive that everyone on Friday night would remember.
For Baker, the final drive was important, but what really stood out to him was his defense making a stand, and giving his offense one final opportunity to win.
“We stopped them, and at that point I thought it would be tough to score. I thought when it really turned towards us, we went down and scored but didn’t tie it up, and we just needed one stop to give us a chance,” Baker said.
Clearfield forced an incomplete pass on the first two plays, but the third down call was the play that had the sidelines on the Bison side of the field screaming. Mock was forced out of the pocket and rolled left. He would fall short of the first down by inches, but there was a flag down right in front of the coaches. The call was an inadvertant face mask that many coaches and even the chain crew began questioning as to being correct. Still, the five yards were added to the run, and it was a fresh set of downs for Central. The next pass from Mock would go high above the right side of the field into the arms of Alex Hoenstine again for a big 42-yard gain.
Clearfield would force two more incomplete passes, and an underneath route, but had to make another stand on 4th and 3. The ensuing pass to John Michael Knepp gained 12 yards, and gave Central 1st and Goal at the four. Two plays later, Hoenstine would catch the pass from Mock for the touchdown. He would add on the two-point conversion to make it 35-28, but with 29 seconds left, the Bison had one more chance.
The short kickoff gave them strong field position to begin. Spaid hit Lezzer quickly for 11 yards and a first down, and after getting out of bounds he was pushed by a defensive player, which gave the Bison a free 15-yard penalty. But then, the next two passes went short and just out of the reach of Lezzer, bringing up 3rd and 10 at the Central 33. The next pass appeared to be good to Thomas Summers on the right sidelines with both feet in bounds. He hopped up as if to get ready for the next play, but the official then stood standing at the turf for a couple seconds and called the pass incomplete. The controversial call meant that with only four seconds left, and a false-start penalty, the Bison had one final gasp to make it to overtime.
Spaid dropped back to pass, while the Central secondary dropped deep. Spaid launched his final pass down the left sidelines, and at the high point of the spiral, the Central defense intercepted the ball, securing the victory for the visiting group.
Clearfield now has it’s first two-loss season in three years, with the last coming in 2011. This one was hard to swallow as the frustration could be seen by every player wearing the black and red. Still, Janocko believes a lot of positives came from the game, and knows that in order to get better, he and his entire group simply have to move forward.
“I think it’s something we can build on. We’ve lost a couple tough games, but we’re right there with these teams. It’s something to build on and come back next week,” Janocko said.
Clearfield now sits at 1-2, and once again must head on the road next week to face the Huntingdon Bearcats.
GAME NOTES: There were 21 total penalties called in the game, seven being personal fouls; the loss at the Bison Sports Complex is the first since the new field turf was installed prior to the 2012 season; this is the first home loss for Clearfield overall since 2009 when the Bison lost to Bald Eagle 34-21; Clearfield has not lost two regular-season games since the 2009 season when they lost two of their first four. They finished that season 7-4; Benton and Mock combined for 390 yards passing for Central, going 15 for 33 and no interceptions.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Central 21 0 0 14 – 35
Clearfield 0 14 7 7 – 28
DRAGONS: 40-yard pass from Mock to Helsel (Muthler kick), 10:59
DRAGONS: 12-yard pass from Mock to Helsel (Muthler kick), 7:19
DRAGONS: 1-yard run by Weyant (Muthler kick), 1:53
BISON: 2-yard run by Caldwell (Herrington kick), 7:38
BISON: 4-yard pass from Sellers to Kovalick (Herrington kick), 0:13
BISON: 31-yard pass from Spaid to Lezzer (Herrington kick), 5:56
BISON: 14-yard run by Sellers (Herrington kick), 10:21
DRAGONS: 38-yard pass from Benton to N. Hoenstine (Muthler kick Blocked), 6:55
DRAGONS: 2-yard pass from Helsel to A. Hoenstine (A. Hoenstine run), 0:29
First Downs: 15/18
Rush Yards: 1/186
Pass Yards: 390/124
Total Yards: 391/310
Time of Possession: 21:55/26:05
Central: Mock-8 carries, 21 yards; A. Hoenstine-5 carries, 13 yards, TD; Benton-5 carries, (-5) yards; Langer-3 carries, 4 yards; Weyant-1 carry, 1 yard, TD; Team-4 carries, (-33) yards.
Clearfield: Sellers-19 carries, 113 yards, TD; Caldwell-12 carries, 72 yards, TD; Lezzer-1 carry, 9 yards; Spaid-1 carry, (-8) yards.
Central: Mock-10 for 14, 153 yards, 3 TD; Benton-5 for 19, 137 yards, TD.
Clearfield: Spaid-11 for 25, 124 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT.
Central: Helsel-6 catches, 82 yards, 2 TD; A. Hoenstine-5 catches, 81 yards, TD; Knepp-2 catches, 77 yards; N. Hoenstine-1 catch, 38 yards, TD; Mock-1 catch, 12 yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-4 catches, 61 yards, TD; Kovalick-2 catches, 27 yards, TD; Sellers-2 catches, 18 yards; Summers-1 catch, 8 yards; Caldwell-1 catch, 6 yards; Lansberry-1 catch, 4 yards.