DUBOIS — It is hard for any team to win one major championship, much less defend it the following year. Trying to defend it three consecutive years is even more challenging, and the consideration of trying to defend it four times in a row is often never fathomed. This season, the Clearfield Bison football team were in territory often never seen even at the professional level.
After four straight seasons of bringing a Class AAA championship in District IX back to the trophy room, the Bison were going after an unprecedented fifth in a row. To achieve that, they would look across the field at a familiar foe, the last team to defeat them in this game, the Punxsutawney Chucks.
Cool temperatures and the occasional rain drop would welcome fans to E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois for the first daylight game of the season for either squad, but one with very huge implications on the season.
At the end of 48 minutes, one team received medals to hang around each of their necks, and would hoist a trophy to signal the achievement of a goal that has been in sight all season. During those 48 minutes of play, there was never any doubt as to who the better team was. Clearfield scored early, often, and never looked back. They would force turnovers, capitalize on them, and play strong defense to lead them to the 35-8 victory, and thus capturing their fifth-consecutive District IX championship.
“I’m really happy for these kids,” Head coach Tim Janocko said afterward. “They played a flawless game in the first half…very happy for them. It’s just a great game for our kids.”
Janocko speaks of the first half since every one of the Bison scores happened within the first 24 minutes of play.
It did not take long for the Bison to showcase what they were all about. The 1:00 p.m. kickoff was a first for the Bison in a few years, with their last one coming in 2012 when they played in Clarion. It would not take long for Clearfield to get on the board.
Cody Spaid began finding a groove in his passing game the last few weeks, and he showed it on just the second play from scrimmage. The pass was right on target to Ryan Lezzer, who would dodge tacklers and make it into the end zone for the first score of the afternoon. Spencer Herrington would knock through the extra point, and quickly the Bison were out to a 7-0 lead after just 22 seconds had gone off the clock.
Both teams would exchange possessions after the quick score, but the Bison were starting to find some footing on the ground using their dual-purpose player, Eric Sellers. Sellers would break into the backfield late in the first quarter and nearly make it into the end zone. Had it not been for a shoe-string tackle, and a superman launch by the Punxsutawney defense, he would have made it in. But, he was down inside the one-yard line, leaving it 1st and Goal.
Sellers would call his own number one play later and sneak it into the end zone for his first touchdown of the game. Another extra point and it was quickly 14-0 in favor of the black-clad Bison.
The second quarter would see another Bison standout have his moment in the sun, or in the case of this game the clouds. That would be sophomore running back Seth Caldwell. Sellers has speed, but his size has made him difficult to tackle for the opposing defense. Caldwell complements Sellers with his smaller size and speed, making it a potent 1-2 attack for the Bison.
Caldwell would have his moment midway through the second quarter. The Bison were nipping, clawing, and eating away at the Chucks’ defense, play after play with each gain. The 13-play drive was one that exhausted the opposing defense, and it was more than enough for Caldwell to find the gap he needed. The sophomore would rumble up the middle for a 23-yard touchdown run with 6:07 left in the half.
Another extra point made it 21-0, but what it did was beat the soul out of the Chucks.
Sellers would continue yet another strong game as he would score his second touchdown to help put his team up even more. Another extra point by Herrington would make it a 28-0 advantage for Clearfield with under a minute yet to go. Sellers would finish the night with a game-high 142 yards on the ground.
However, the Bison were not done yet, and would come up big on defense following the kickoff.
The Chucks were still not giving up in their quest to get on the board, but on the ensuing possession things went from bad to worse. Running back Dakota Thomas found some running room in the middle, but the Bison defense swarmed.
In doing so, the ball was punched from his grasp by R.J. Ward, and Lezzer was there to recover the loose ball.
On the ensuing possession after the turnover, it would be a repeat of the first score of the game. Once again, Spaid would find Lezzer on the right side of the field, this time from 26 yards away, and it would mean another six points for Clearfield. Herrington would nail the extra point, meaning the score heading into halftime was 35-0, putting in the running clock for the second half of the game.
Spaid would only complete two passes all game, but both passes were key in the final outcome.
“Our defense had an outstanding game. I can’t single anybody out. I thought we played well in the secondary, our linebackers, the line of scrimmage, just everybody had an outstanding game,” Janocko said.
The second half of football for the Bison was all about playing defense and letting the clock run. But, Punxsutawney would come out of the half with a huge bang.
On the opening kickoff, Herrington’s long boot was taken by Braxton Giaviadoni at the 5-yard line, and thanks to some strong blocking out front of him, he would break into the open field for the kickoff return touchdown. The two-point conversion was good, making the score 35-8.
The Bison would stick with the running game and run out the clock for most of the remaining time to assure them another district championship for the Clearfield faithful that braved the cold, wind and rain to watch the game.
“It’s been a journey. It’s been a fun journey, but has taken a lot of patience,” Janocko said. “It’s been very rewarding. The fun of it is the journey itself. I’m really satisfied with these kids, and I’m really proud of them.”
Both Punxsutawney and Clearfield are not done playing football for the 2014 season. Both are included in the District 5-6-8-9 Sub-Regional playoff bracket that begins next week. The Chucks are the No. 4 seed, and will face top-seeded Somerset.
Clearfield (8-2) comes into the post season as the No. 2 seed in the bracket, and will play host to No. 3 seed Johnstown on Friday night. As the rules state for the first round of playoffs, the higher seed will play host to the game, meaning the Bison will play one last game on their home turf of the Bison Sports Complex. Kickoff on Friday night is slated for 7 p.m.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Punxsutawney 0 0 8 0 – 8
Clearfield 14 21 0 0 – 35
BISON: 55-yard pass from Spaid to Lezzer (Herrington kick), 11:38
BISON: 1-yard run by Sellers (Herrington kick), 2:31
BISON: 23-yard run by Caldwell (Herrington kick), 6:07
BISON: 5-yard run by Sellers (Herrington kick), 0:52
BISON: 26-yard pass from Spaid to Lezzer (Herrington kick), 0:40
CHUCKS: 95-yard kickoff return by Giaviadoni (2-point conversion), 11:48
First Downs: 6/15
Rush Yards: 24/237
Pass Yards: 68/82
Total yards: 92/319
Punxsutawney: Arrington-10 carries, 40 yards; Thomas-10 carries, (-17 yards); Perry-1 carry, 1 yard; Young-1 carry, 0 yards.
Clearfield: Sellers-23 carries, 142 yards, 2 TD; Caldwell-16 carries, 92 yards, TD; Shimmel-4 carries, 1 yard; Wingate-2 carries, 2 yards; Daub-1 carry, 2 yards; Team-2 carries, (-2) yards.
Punxsutawney: Thomas-6 for 14, 68 yards.
Clearfield: Spaid-2 for 7, 82 yards, 2 TD, INT.
Punxsutawney: Giaviadoni-3 catches, 52 yards; Fedigan-2 catches, 11 yards; Arrington-1 catch, 5 yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-2 catches, 82 yards, 2 TD.