The second season has arrived for high school football. This is the time of year when the real cream of the crop rise to show the real ability they have when everything is on the line. There is no more, “We will get em next week” should the end result not go the way for one team.
It is now all about being victorious, because one loss now means a season has come to a close.
District IX is ready to start their second season, with a few changes in how the playoffs were set up. The Clearfield Bison were part of the Class-AAA playoff bracket, and this week normally is when the title game would be played. But, classification changes over the summer put Clearfield into the larger Quad-A bracket, and meant there would be no title contest. Instead, it is immediately into playoffs.
The Bison enter the playoffs with a commendable 9-1 record, which also includes yet another Mountain League championship to their list of accomplishments. It saw a season that started with a tough loss against DuBois, a team they had not played since 2010, but then saw them rattle off nine consecutive victories, culminating in a very impressive victory over Karns City, the No. 8-ranked AAA team in the state according to the PA Football News, last Friday night.
After an impressive season, the Bison earned the first-seed in the District 5-6-9 bracket, and are ready to host the first round matchup. This Friday night, Clearfield will host a familiar foe, one that they happened to play on the same field at the Bison Sports Complex on the last day of September.
Clearfield’s first opponent in the playoffs will be the Bellefonte Red Raiders, a team that enters the playoffs as the No. 4 seed with their 5-5 record.
Both teams are familiar with one another, but let’s analyze both teams as if they were on the field.
Bellefonte Offense vs. Clearfield Defense
If this game were solely based on what happened in the previous meeting between the two teams, it would be lopsided squarely in favor of Clearfield. The final score was a shutout victory for the Bison, 28-0, where the home squad held the Red Raiders to only four first-downs, and under fifteen minutes of time of possession.
Not to mention, Clearfield held the Red Raiders to under 100 yards of total offense.
That being said, since that loss, Bellefonte finished the final four games of the season at 2-2. In the two wins over Penns Valley and Bald Eagle, they outscored their opponents 70-7. But in the two losses, they were outscored 70-22.
So what does Bellefonte need to do in order to have a game that is like their final two wins of the season?
The best option is to rely on the rushing game, because trying to pass the ball this year has been a struggle. Dexter Gallishaw and Tyler Kreger are the two backs that have provided a lot of spark for the Red Raider offense. Combined they have over 1000 yards on the ground, with 13 touchdowns. It will be critical to get them going early to weaken the Bison front seven, as then it will open up the passing game.
However, trying to weaken the Bison defense has shown to be difficult for all opponents.
One key reason is the heart of that Bison defense, Matt Collins. The senior linebacker has proven how tough he is all season with a team-high 156 tackles, including two for loss, and another 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two recoveries, plus an interception.
Bellefonte needs to get off to a strong start like it did against Bald Eagle in order to pull of the upset.
Clearfield Offense vs. Bellefonte Defense
In the first meeting between these two teams, the Bison offense got things going early, often, and never looked back. In doing so, they totaled 20 first downs, 28 points, and over 300 yards of offense.
The reason Clearfield was able to do so is because of the backfield. Seth Caldwell in his senior season has become a workhorse for the team. With a veteran line in front that has opened up hole after hole, he has yet another 1000-yard season, but is looking for more. He likely will pass his former teammate, Christian Lezzer, on total rushing yards for his career against the Red Raiders on Friday night. However, he is also attempting to beat the all-time record for rushing set by Dave Richards between 1999 and 2002.
That mark of 4,639 yards has stood for over a decade. Caldwell, after last week against Karns City, is at 4,247 yards for his career. The potential is there to break that record, but to do so he will need his line to continue to keep creating gaps.
That strong running game has also been a huge benefit to their young quarterback, sophomore Isaac Rumery.
If one were to compare his first start in August to now, it’s a completely different signal-caller. Rumery has completed over 50 percent of his passes, thrown for over 1600 yards, and has 16 touchdowns compared to only nine interceptions. Head coach Tim Janocko has praised his young quarterback for his poise and his toughness over the course of the 10-game season, and he has consistently kept improving.
He’s spread out the ball to many receivers, but none more than Micah Heichel and Ryan Lezzer. The two have combined for over 1300 receiving yards, and have accounted for 12 of the 16 touchdowns thrown by Rumery this season.
In order for the Bison offense to achieve that same success, these four players must have the same kind of results this game as they did back on September 30.
The Key to Victory: Not looking too far ahead.
One thing about football is that teams will circle certain games that they know they must win, and even circle an opponent they want to face. For both teams, this could be a key because it could end up costing either one of them. Looking ahead to the next week means possibly overlooking the week that is upcoming.
Clearfield could fall victim to this because of who is on the other side of the bracket. The No. 2 vs. No. 3 matchup is DuBois vs. Johnstown. The Beavers opened the season with a victory over Clearfield, the lone loss for the Bison this season, so there is motivation to beat the team that handed them the first loss of the season. However, Johnstown also is a team that Clearfield has history with, having faced them many times in the playoffs the last few years. But, the last time was a game that hurt.
It was nearly one year ago that the Trojans and the Bison went into overtime in the first round of the playoffs, a game that ended when Johnstown returned their own muffed field goal attempt for a touchdown, stunning the home crowd in Clearfield.
The 20-14 score is still fresh, but Clearfield cannot look ahead to next week because there could possibly not be a next week for them.
Similarly, the Red Raiders are looking to show their .500 record is not reflective of their season. Yet, if they look ahead to possibly going farther into the playoffs, that means they could overlook a team that already shut them out earlier in the year.
For both teams, the first priority is simply to win this week. Penn State head coach James Franklin coined the phrase, “We want to go 1-0,” meaning there is no looking back or looking ahead. It is simply about this week. Both teams are going into this game with that mentality, and then come the next day, the one that is victorious can then focus on going 1-0 once again.
The advantage for Clearfield will be the home crowd, simply because when it’s playoffs at the Bison Sports Complex, they will pack the grandstands. Get there early and be ready, because kickoff is set for 7 p.m.