The opening round of the 2018 playoffs is in the books. Some teams saw their season continue, while others had to pack up the jerseys one final time and say farewell to the Friday night lights.
For the Clearfield Bison and the Bellefonte Red Raiders, their seasons continued thanks to a pair of dominant performances last weekend in the District 6-9 Regional semi-finals. Now, these two teams that are very familiar with one another are set to clash once again, but this time with a lot more on the line. Last year, these two met in the opening round of the playoffs, but it was Clearfield seeded fourth, with Bellefonte seeded first. Already having lost to them earlier in the year, Bellefonte gave an encore performance, ending the Bison season the first weekend of November.
One year ago, in the combined meetings between these two, Bellefonte outscored and outperformed Clearfield both times, with a combined final of 117-49.
However, the Bison got a taste of revenge in the first meeting between the two Mountain League schools, defeating the Red Raiders 49-21, on their way to their undefeated season.
Now, the second meeting between these two, and fourth in the last two years, has big implications. The winner of this game will be the District 6-9 representative in Class 4A in the PIAA playoffs. For Clearfield, it’s their first potential PIAA playoff birth since the 2013 season, where it ended in the second round against Berwick. Bellefonte’s most recent trip to the PIAA playoffs came last season, coming to an end against Selinsgrove.
Both these teams are very familiar with one another, but in order to win, each has to rely on different strategies. Let’s look at what it will take for each to be a success.
Bellefonte Offense vs. Clearfield Defense
Despite their two-loss record, the Red Raiders have been extremely proficient when the ball is in their hands. Their biggest success, however, has been a two-back strategy on the ground. The fact that C.J. Funk is only a junior, his season statistics have been astonishing. He’s rushed this season for 1475 yards, doing so on just 174 carries. That’s nearly nine yards per carry, and he’s garnered 19 touchdowns to his credit.
Justifiably, he will get a lot of attention from the Bison defensive front seven, but when he is not being handed the ball, senior quarterback Kyle Myers has been an excellent change of pace. Although he’s carried for only 639 yards this season with five scores, he has been able to provide a lot of relief from Funk’s legs.
That ground game with the way the Red Raiders run their offense will give opportunities in the passing game, something Myers is hoping will lead to big yards on the outside against a pair of tough Bison corners.
Myers has thrown for 1039 yards this season, but has a QBR of just over 100 thanks to 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Being able to get the ball to Trae Bauman and Noah Badger on the outside both early and often will put the Bison defenders on their toes, as they have been vulnerable on occasion to both the deep ball and blown coverage.
These factors are what allowed Bellefonte to have so much success a season ago, especially with Clearfield at the time being a very young squad with just six seniors on the roster.
However, the Bison defense this year was able to hold them down and show that with a year of experience and work, they can come back and “take care of business” as head coach Tim Janocko has often said.
Bellefonte’s way to victory: Pound the ball at the defensive front to open up the passing opportunities. If they can do this, there is a chance they win their third game against the Bison in the last two years.
Clearfield Offense vs. Bellefonte Defense
For the Bison in 2018, it’s not about having the pass open up the run, nor vice versa. This season it has been about playing to the strength of the offense that particular week. Some games have seen a majority of scores come through the air, while others have seen more happen through a hand off. Clearfield plays to its strengths each week, but each week they show they are not a one-sided team.
Case in point, quarterback Isaac Rumery.
Sure, he’s known for his arm and his ability to pass. His 2268 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, three interceptions and QBR of 143.6 prove that fact. But, he has also shown to be extremely effective at running the ball. When he’s not airing it out, his feet have dug in for 505 yards rushing and 10 scores.
That means he becomes the third potential runner on the Bison offense.
His improvisation tactics when plays break down have led to many scoring opportunities, just like last week when he ran about 60 yards just to score a 25-yard touchdown against DuBois.
That makes the Red Raider defense having to play both run and pass at the same time. When it is clear the Bison are going for the rushing game, Rumery is often handing the ball off aside from calling his own number in the run-pass-option. That handoff always goes to either Brett Zattoni or Caleb Freeland, each who have proved to be both thunder and lightning when the ball is in hand.
Combined, the two have rushed for almost 1700 yards, with the junior Zattoni barely ahead, and 29 touchdowns, with Freeland holding the most with 18 on the season.
Still, Rumery has shown his record-setting passing career is not done without the help of a great set of receivers, and he has three in Jake Lezzer, Taye Lynch and Spencer Graham. These three have caught the ball from Rumery approximately 85 percent of the time, with Lezzer leading in receiving yards (943) and Lynch leading in touchdowns (12). The last time these two teams faced one another, Rumery’s five passing touchdowns were tossed to the trio of receivers, with Graham’s lone receiving touchdown this year coming on that night.
Clearfield’s way to victory: Utilize the offensive strengths that work best on the night, while also showing the offense can win in multiple ways.
With the second round of playoffs in progress, games will be played at neutral sites. This week, the game will be played at a venue Clearfield saw to start the 2018 season, E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois. Due to being the higher seed, Clearfield will be wearing their home black uniform, while Bellefonte will be outfitted in their road white jerseys. Kickoff will come on Friday night at 7 p.m.
The winner will face-off against the District 8-10 regional next week.