HYDE — Playoff football is a special time because every week the teams keep getting better, competition gets more difficult, and every game could literally be the last time a team laces up the cleats for the season. There is no tomorrow in the playoffs, because it is all about what happens that one night.
Once again, the Clearfield Bison found themselves in a familiar spot, as they entered he post-season on an upswing of winning eight consecutive games, and adding another District IX Championship to the trophy case. Now, as they entered the District 5-6-8-9 sub-regional bracket, it was all about victory, and adding another week of action and hard work to the year.
The Bison entered the playoffs as the host for the first round of the bracket, playing a very evenly matched Johnstown Trojan squad, looking for revenge on their loss to Clearfield from the year prior.
It seemed early on that Johnstown would make good on that quest, breaking out to a quick lead and seemed to be weakening the soul of the Bison. But, the home squad was not going down swinging, and instead decided to provide a very swift, very strong response that could only be described as debilitating. In one quarter of play, the Bison turned four Johnstown turnovers in to three scores, and quickly took momentum in their favor, locking it in for the long haul to victory.
It was more than enough as Clearfield would tally five touchdowns in one quarter to give plenty of cushion for a 42-27 victory.
“I thought our offensive line did an outstanding job, and our kids running the ball did an outstanding job. We pretty much controlled the line on both sides of the ball. Our offensive and defensive lines dominated,” head coach Tim Janocko said afterward.
The offensive line made large openings for every Bison runner that touched the ball, allowing the team to gain over 300 yards on the ground, while the defense would yield only 200, but more importantly forced five turnovers that would eventually lead to three of the six Bison touchdowns on the night.
However, things did not start out well for the home team.
On the first drive, Trojan quarterback Jeremy Updyke had his squad start off with a bang. The third play from scrimmage saw A.J. Fisher break into the secondary, and haul in the massive 53-yard pass to open the game with a huge touchdown. Nate Litvin would knock through the extra point, and just barely a minute into the game the 7-0 lead was on the scoreboard.
Clearfeld would be stopped on their opening drive, and then following a punt, would have even more trouble when Seth Caldwell would lose the football on a hand off that would be covered up by the Johnstown defense. Clearfield would hold strong, forcing a sack and then a punt. But that punt play would be the play that would change the entire outlook of the game.
Litvin took the snap, and went for the boot, but Travis Ogden would get a big rush from the right side, getting his hands up just as the ball went skyward, and would get the block. The ball traveled backwards and yielded a short field for the Bison.
It took nine plays, but Eric Sellers would make it count as he would score from a yard out, then Spencer Herrington’s right foot made the score all even with just under two minutes left in the first quarter.
Johnstown would go three-and-out on the next series, but the out would not come on fourth down. Updyke would look over the middle for the big play to get out of the shadow of his own end zone. What he ended up seeing was a huge flash of black zip in front of his pass. That flash in reality was Jake Wingate, who seemed to spring like he was racing a sprint at the Olympics to intercept the ball, bringing it back all the way to the Johnstown five-yard line. Three plays later, Sellers would again find himself in the end zone. Herrington felt his own block as his point after was batted right into his face, leaving the score 13-7.
If the interception was a change in momentum, the kickoff locked the momentum into place.
Herrington’s short kick was fielded by Exree Loe, who was more of a blocker than returner. While trying to get that final yard, the special teams of the Bison ripped the ball out and would recover the fumble, setting up a short field and a chance to add to the lead. In a matter of less than a minute, Johnstown would yield two turnovers, and lose the lead.
The opening score of the second quarter would only be the first ingredient in the main course. On 2nd and Goal, the Bison ran a reverse to Wingate, who found daylight and scored his first touchdown of the game. This time, Herrington booted the kick, and it was a two-score deficit for Johnstown to come back from.
The issues only got worse as following another 3-and-out, Johnstown had a bad punt, and it left the Bison at the opposing 30, and a short field.
Enter Sellers again, who capped off the short drive with his third touchdown run, and also added on the two-point conversion with a roll-out pass to Wingate. With not even a half a quarter to play, Clearfield rallied off 28 consecutive points to lead 28-7.
At that point, even Johnstown head coach Tony Penna Jr. could tell things were in favor of the home team.
“We were getting some of the looks that we liked, off to a good start. Things just started steam rolling with the turnovers and the blocked punt, and they got on top of us really quick. It shell-shocked us,” he said afterward. “Where we committed the turnovers, it wasn’t really hard word for them to get in. There wasn’t a whole lot of field to work with.
“Momentum definitely swung, we kept making mistakes, and we couldn’t get things going.”
Clearfield again took advantage of another Trojan turnover, this on a fumble run by Devin Miller, on their next possession. Caldwell would make up for the fumble earlier and scored his only touchdown of the night on a 2-yard leap with 3:54 remaining in the half. Another Herrington kick, and it was 35-7.
Soon after, less than a minute later in fact, Clearfield delivered the kill blow to the visitors in the biggest way possible. The Bison were forcing turnovers and letting the offense create points off of them. Instead, this time, it became a two-for-one deal in just one play.
Updyke would fall back to pass, looking to connect with Devin Miller. Instead, Clearfield’s Ryan Lezzer snatched the ball out of the grasp of Price, who then followed his blockers all the way into the end zone for the 34-yard interception return touchdown. The extra point put the score at 42-7, locking in the running clock for the second half.
“They’re well coached, and when you dig a hole like that, it’s hard to get out,” Penna Jr. said. “We haven’t turned the ball over all year. Guys make the extra effort on the kickoff, trying to get that extra yardage, and put the ball on the ground. It’s hard to come back from that against a good football team.
“Jeremy’s a strong kid. He’s stayed poised all season, but they made plays when they were there. They have a pretty solid secondary, and they had a pretty solid scheme.”
Lezzer himself knew covering such a player would be tough, but his strategy was to not only cover him, but also keep track of the quarterback.
“I saw a guy come free. I thought he was going to catch it, so I was going for the hit, then he tipped the ball back and I caught it off his fingertips,” he said afterwards. “Then I made one lineman miss, then Sellers had a nice block for me.”
Entering the game, Updyke had only thrown two interceptions on the season. His night would end with three, two of them leading to points for Clearfield.
“Picks are great plays by our defensive backs, but they’re also caused by the defensive line breathing down their throat,” Janocko said afterward.
The 42-7 halftime score meant that for the third and fourth quarters, the running clock would take time away, and the Bison would let some of their underclassmen take the field to get experience. Despite Johnstown coming back and scoring 20 points, two being touchdown passes from Updyke to Kareem Gibson, it was Cory Shimmel shining the brightest.
Despite coming into the game late in the second quarter, he would lead the team in both rushes (21) and yards on the night (163), and has quickly become another go-to back in situations to give both Sellers and Caldwell a break.
“We got a lot of kids involved in the second half. I know Johnstown scored in the second half, but a lot of kids got to play, and that’s valuable for next year. I thought Cory Shimmel had an excellent game,” Janocko said.
With yet another victory under their belt, the Bison know that unlike the first ten weeks of the season, there are no guarantees come the next game. Anything can happen, and the one thing no one on the team wants to experience is knowing that the season could end at the next game. For Janocko, thinking the season could end is not the way to look at it. Instead, he looks upon playoff football with a different perspective, one that his team has taken to heart.
“We’re 9-2, playing for a regional championship. The kids just continue to play hard, and we get another week. That’s what it’s all about,” Janocko said.
The Bison move to the District 5-6-8-9 Regional final to take on Somerset, who advanced following their 51-12 victory over the fourth seed in the bracket, Punxsutawney. The game day and site is yet to be determined.
Game day, time and site have been determined for the District 5-6-8-9 Regional Final. Top-seed Somerset will face No. 2 seed Clearfield Friday, Nov. 14, with the game to be played at Richland High School in Johnstown. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Johnstown 7 0 7 13 – 27
Clearfield 7 35 0 0 – 42
TROJANS: 53-yard pass from Updyke to Fisher (Litvin kick), 10:44
BISON: 1-yard run by Sellers (Herrington kick), 1:38
BISON: 1-yard run by Sellers (Herrington kick BLOCKED), 11:25
BISON: 15-yard run by Wingate (Herrington kick), 10:02
BISON: 1-yard run by Sellers (Sellers pass to Wingate), 7:13
BISON: 2-yard run by Caldwell (Herrington kick), 3:54
BISON: 34-yard interception return by Lezzer (Herrington kick), 3:14
TROJANS: 15-yard pass from Updyke to Gibson (Litvin kick BLOCKED), 4:00
TROJANS: 63-yard pass from Updyke to Gibson (Litvin kick), 3:30
TROJANS: 1-yard run by Fisher (Litvin kick), 0:22
First Downs: 5/18
Rush Yards: 42/328
Pass Yards: 210/30
Total Yards: 252/358
Time of Possession: 15:02/32:58
Johnstown: Miller-6 carries, 26 yards; Fisher-5 carries, 14 yards, TD; Updyke-4 carries, (-20) yards; Loe-2 carries, 7 yards; Gibson-2 caries, 6 yards; Price-1 carry, 0 yards.
Clearfield: Shimmel-21 carries, 163 yards; Sellers-16 carries, 58 yards, 3 TD; Caldwell-12 carries, 59 yards, TD; Daub-8 carries, 8 yards; Lezzer-3 carries, 20 yards; Wingate-2 carries, 21 yards, TD; Team-1 carry, (-1) yards.
Johnstown: Updyke-7 for 16, 210 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT; Robinson-0 for 1.
Clearfield: Spaid-1-6, 30 yards, INT.
Johnstown: Gibson-3 catches, 92 yards, 2 TD; Robinson-1 catch, 55 yards; Fisher-1 catch, 53 yards, TD; Brandon-1 catch, 12 yards; Miller-1 catch, (-2) yards.
Clearfield: Wingate-1 catch, 30 yards.