District 5-6-8-9 Playoff Preview: Johnstown Trojans (5-5) at Clearfield Bison (9-1)

It is that time of year once again for Clearfield.  A common scene for the town is knowing the young men that put on the pads to compete on Friday nights had such a successful season, they get to continue on into post-season action.

For the last six years, the team that’s led by Coach Tim Janocko has been able to not only make it to the playoffs, but has done so with a title.  Since 2010, the Bison have been able to take home the Class AAA District IX championship, this year doing so with a definitive 56-8 triumph over Punxsutawney last Friday night.  What’s different about this team is they did so after losing the first game of the year.

The loss to Fort Hill on opening night was not as big of a setback as expected, as the young squad continued to get better, and became more cohesive as the year progressed.

Now sitting at 9-1, the Bison are ready to take to the field knowing that they are in the second season.

That second season begins this week, as they will host the first round of the playoffs in the District 5-6-8-9 bracket.  On the opposite side of the field, it’s a familiar opponent for the Bison.  For the fourth time in the last five years, the Bison will take on the Johnstown Trojans, who enter the playoffs with an even record of 5-5.

Johnstown itself is hoping to end the streak against Clearfield, as in each of the last four meetings, it has been the Bison that came out on the better end, the most recent being one year ago in a 42-27 final.

The Trojans this season are a passing team that relies heavily on the play of senior quarterback Jeremy Updyke, and rightfully so.  With a quarterback rating of 120, Updyke has earned his way to being an elite signal caller in the state.  This year he’s averaging over 200 yards passing per game, completing nearly 58 percent of his passes, and throwing 19 touchdown passes compared to only five interceptions.

However the Bison secondary has shown they are capable of creating havoc and turnovers this season, something that Updyke has been familiar with in his previous games against the Bison.

When it comes to the ground game, Johnstown doesn’t necessarily have that “breakout” back that stands out, but the combination of Bryce Gibson and Terrell Jones take some of the pressure off Updyke, as each are near the 500-yard mark for the season, with Jones holding the edge in rushing touchdowns, eight compared to Gibson’s five.

On the outside of the line, the receiving bunch is stacked for the Trojans, but none has stood out more than Exree Loe.  The junior has been a reception machine through 10 games, pulling down 46 passes for 904 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Bison defense will have to play hard to keep Loe in check, but with players like Ryan Lezzer, Micah Heichel, and Jacob Wingate capable of defending such a player, it will make for an interesting matchup on the outside.  Add in players like Nate Lash, Travis Ogden, and Matt Collins around the defensive line and at linebacker, it will create many issues for Updyke in just trying to get a pass off.

When Clearfield is on offense, there is no question that they have been a run-heavy offense out of the read-option look, especially when running out of the pistol formation.

Junior running back Seth Caldwell has been a beast when the ball is in his hands.  Breaking onto the scene two years ago as a freshman, Caldwell has become the go-to back for the Bison this season as he is nearly at the 1300-yard mark for the 2015 season, averaging nearly seven yards per touch, and 13 rushing touchdowns.

But at the same time, when Caldwell is not given the ball, there’s someone else that is getting a lot of attention, with a familiar name to Clearfield fans.

Ryan Lezzer, who’s older brother is former Clearfield quarterback Christian Lezzer, has 586 yards rushing this season, averaging just over 10 yards per carry, and nine scores.  Lezzer also is someone to watch in the backfield, but as a quarterback.  He’s found success as the signal caller, which puts the defense in a tough spot as he has shown he can possibly throw the ball, or hand it off to another running back to keep the defense guessing.

When Lezzer isn’t running the wildcat offense, it is senior Cody Spaid that is taking the snaps and looking to go downfield.  Compared to a year ago, Spaid has improved drastically as the signal caller, completing 50 percent of his passes on the year, throwing for 1228 yards, 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

He’s been able to spread the ball out to Lezzer, who leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, but also to Wingate, Caldwell, and Ogden.

Despite the opposition having a 5-5 record, Clearfield is not looking at it as that.  It’s a new week, and more importantly it’s a new season.  Both the Trojans and the Bison know that the team that is victorious on Friday night moves on into the finals of the District 5-6-8-9 regional bracket, while the other will see their season come to a close.

If there is one advantage for the Bison for the opening game of the playoffs, it’s the fact they will have the crowd on their side.

Friday’s game will be a home contest for Clearfield, as kickoff is slated for 7 p.m. at the Bison Sports Complex.

Bison Scoreboard:

Date Opponent Score Record
09/04 FORT HILL, MD 14 – 49 0 – 1
09/11 PENNS VALLEY 42 – 18 1 – 1
09/18 @ Central 19 – 8 2 – 1
09/25 HUNTINGDON 50 – 23 3 – 1
10/02 @ Brockway 28 – 7 4 – 1
10/09 @ Bellefonte 42 – 7 5 – 1
10/16 TYRONE 34 – 17 6 – 1
10/23 BALD EAGLE AREA 49 – 12 7 – 1
10/30 @ Philipsburg-Osceola 56 – 17 8 – 1
11/06 D9 AAA Final
vs. Punxsutawney 56 – 8 9 – 1
11/13 Region 5/6/8/9 Semis
Curwensville Thumps Clarion 46-14 with Second Half Domination in D-9 Playoffs
Campus Corner: Barger Ranked No. 2 in Nation; Spencer Doublewinner; Wriglesworth Qualifies for PSACs

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