DUBOIS — It felt, and looked, like a December night instead of the second week of November. But, a PIAA playoff berth was on the line when the Bellefonte Red Raiders clashed for the second time in 2018, and fourth time in two years, against the unblemished Clearfield Bison. This time, it wasn’t the grassy fields of Bellefonte awaiting the cleats, nor was it the turf at the Clearfield Area Junior/Senior High School awaiting the action.
This time, it was E.J. Mansell Stadium in DuBois hosting the top two seeds in the District 6-9 championship in Class 4A. With the wet conditions, it had an old-school football vibe, and that is what the fans received. But, in the end, the old-school feel played in the favor of the Bison. Head coach Tim Janocko’s unbeaten squad racked up seven rushing touchdowns in a 49-21 triumph to move them into the state playoffs next week.
For Clearfield, it marks 12 straight wins this season, and their first PIAA-state playoff birth since 2013.
Things were slow going in the opening quarter following the Red Raiders receiving the opening kickoff. They ultimately were forced to punt, and Clearfield then went to work.
On this night, the ground game for the Bison was the key ingredient due to the conditions. With a wintry mix coming into central Pennsylvania, throwing the ball became a challenge. But that did not slow down Clearfield as they relied on their talented running backs to pound the turf. Starting at their own 43, Clearfield marched ahead thanks to the legs of Brett Zattoni and a key pass into the red zone by Isaac Rumery.
It took three plays to get Clearfield into the red zone, and three more to hit pay dirt. Zattoni took the hand off by Rumery from his own 12 and punched his ticket to the end zone to open the scoring on the night. Zach Hess was true on the point after, giving Clearfield the early 7-0 lead with just over eight minutes left to play in the first quarter.
The Bison defense stepped up on the second Red Raider drive, forcing a three-and-out, at least that was the intention. Bellefonte decided to try some trickery on fourth down by faking the punt and running to get the first down to stun the opposition. But the front line of Clearfield was ready for such an attempt, stuffing the Red Raiders at their own 32, forcing the turnover on downs and giving the Bison a short field to work with and still time on the clock in the first quarter.
Clearfield took only four plays to once again get into the red zone, and then just like the opening drive, Zattoni capped it off, this time from eight yards out, for his second score of the game. Hess again booted the point after, and Clearfield took a two-possession lead with just over three minutes remaining in the opening frame.
Bellefonte’s tough night soon went deeper into trouble as on their third series, they coughed up the football, and the Bison defense pounced, recovering the fumble for the turnover.
Following three consecutive runs by Zattoni and Caleb Freeland, it was Jake Lezzer taking the end-around handoff to set up Clearfield 1st and Goal at the six-yard line. That is when Freeland got in on the action, spilling into the end zone for his first score of the night. Hess again added the extra point, and after one quarter of action, Clearfield held the 21-0 advantage, and looked to continue to rely on their running game to gain the yardage on the dreary night.
Bellefonte finally got to put a drive together beginning at the end of the first quarter following Freeland’s score. Beginning at their own 15, quarterback Kyle Myers put his legs to work along with the power running of Mason Grey. The drive would go on for 13 plays, concluding when Myers relied on his arm instead of his hand, finding Noah Badger in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown pass and catch. Chris Persiko added the point after, pulling the Red Raiders to within two possessions, 21-7.
Unfortunately, aside from the opening score, that was as close as they came to reducing the gap.
The ensuing drive for the Bison got a jolt when Rumery looked deep down the field and found Taye Lynch for a 36-yard strike to put Clearfield into Bellefonte territory. Rumery then took it the remaining way on two plays, the first on a 29-yard sprint, and then a six-yard draw for his first rushing touchdown of the night, and fourth for the team. Hess missed the extra point, keeping the score 27-7 with just under nine minutes remaining in the half.
The Clearfield defense held strong once again, forcing Bellefonte to punt, and giving the Bison the ball at the Red Raider 43. It did not take long for the Bison to capitalize as Freeland captured his second touchdown on a 31-yard sprint just two plays later.
Rumery connected with Lynch for the two-point conversion, making it 35-7 with just over five minutes remaining in the half.
For Clearfield, the success in the first quarter stopping the Bellefonte offense did not continue in the second, as for the second time in three drives, the Red Raiders drove down the field, finishing with Myers plunging in from just outside the goal line. Another point after, and the gap was back to three possessions with just under three minutes remaining.
That still was plenty of time for Clearfield to put together one more drive in the remaining minutes. The Bison offense stayed true to the ground attack, and capitalized on the opportunity, as Rumery plunged into the end zone in the final minute to push his team firmly in control with his second rushing touchdown on the night. Heading into halftime, the Bison held a 42-14 advantage, and at that point it seemed the spirit on the Bellefonte side of the stadium was fading.
Clearfield got the ball to open the second half, and despite driving nearly the full-length of the field, the Bellefonte defense made a very important statement. With their backs against their own end zone, they forced a fourth-down stop at their own four yard line, halting the Bison’s attempt to put the running clock into effect.
Neither team would score until right into the last minute of the third quarter when Freeland got free from 20 yards away for his third touchdown on the night. With Hess putting through the extra point, the 49-14 score meant that the final quarter would see a running clock.
The final score of the night came in the fourth quarter when Grey rumbled in from six yards out. Persiko added the point after, and the final was set. The Bison reserves then got to take the field for some playing time, but in the end the clock read all zeroes, and the top seed in the District 6-9 bracket got to celebrate a second championship on the year, with smiles on all the players, coaches, and fans alike.
At 12-0, Clearfield has an opportunity to match their highest win total in program history next week. In order to do that, they will have to get past the District 10 champion Cathedral Prep Ramblers. The Ramblers advanced with a 52-8 win over University Prep Friday night.
Game is tentatively set to be played next Friday night, however start time and location will be determined at the beginning of the week.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 21 21 7 0 – 49
Bellefonte 0 14 0 7 – 21
BISON: 12-yard run by Zattoni (Hess kick)
BISON: 8-yard run by Zattoni (Hess kick)
BISON: 6-yard run by Freeland (Hess kick)
RED RAIDERS: 14-yard pass from Myers to Badger (Persiko kick),
BISON: 6-yard run by Rumery (Hess kick failed),
BISON: 31-yard run by Freeland (Rumery pass to Lynch)
RED RAIDERS: 1-yard run by Myers (Persiko kick)
BISON: 1-yard run by Rumery (Hess kick)
BISON: 20-yard run by Freeland (Hess kick)
RED RAIDERS: 9-yard run by Grey (Persiko kick)