It’s that time of year when the best of the best in high school football begin their journey to greatness. Four weeks of competition, culminating with a trip just outside of the sweetest amusement park in the state of Pennsylvania, are what every team hopes becomes a reality.
The Class 4A bracket for the PIAA has many strong schools, ready to go after their championship one week after Thanksgiving, and among those are the unbeaten Clearfield Bison. For 12 weeks, they looked to their competition, and never waivered in their efforts to not just stay unblemished, but to stay true to how they made their way to that record. Each week has been a challenge, but even by head coach Tim Janocko’s admittance, the toughest challenge lies ahead.
The opening round of the playoffs for the Bison means a game against a team they’ve not faced, the perennial state power Cathedral Prep Ramblers out of Erie.
Here’s a look on both sides of the ball, and what each team will need to do in order to win.
Cathedral Prep Offense vs. Clearfield Defense
A team that earns almost 450 yards a game is no team to be taken lightly, especially when the amount of yards on the ground out-gains the yards through the air almost by a 2:1 ratio. That is thanks to the athletic ability of senior tailback Billy Lucas. He’s only carried 144 times this season, but has 1131 yards rushing, and a team-high 15 touchdowns. That’s almost eight yards per carry.
When he’s not holding the ball, four other teammates of Lucas have shown they can get the job done. Connor Schleicher, Luke Sittinger, Jaheim Howard and Collin Johnson all have shown they can handle the load when Lucas needs a rest.
That’s five runners the Bison defense would need to be aware of for 48 minutes.
If that wasn’t tough enough, the Ramblers have not one, but two, quarterbacks that have seen extremely successful through 12 weeks of action.
Schleicher has seen his best success as a senior, despite only throwing 129 passes this year, 66 of them complete. He has 912 yards passing, 11 touchdowns, and only three interceptions. But, it’s been Johnson having even better luck with his arm. His statistics show it: 48 for 76, 815 yards, 12 touchdowns, and one interception.
Clearfield has not faced a team this season that has two players that can throw the ball, meaning there’s potentially a chance that the offense will perform differently with each quarterback on the field. The dynamic is one that is a unique opportunity for the Bison, because there is a chance to make a team one-dimensional with one quarterback, and have a completely other one-dimensional attack with another.
Cathedral Prep Victory Plan: Shorten the game, wear the defense down, take away offensive opportunities.
Clearfield Offense vs. Cathedral Prep Defense
The bread and butter for the Bison all season long has been big play ability, on the ground and in the air. That is again centralized around their top star, and leader, Isaac Rumery.
A 144-QBR rating, 25 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a record-setting 2397 passing yards; he’s done exceptional in his final season at the helm of the Bison. He’s done so because of a supporting cast of his offensive line has protected him, preventing sacks and giving him opportunities to hit Taye Lynch, Jake Lezzer, Spencer Graham, and others for big gains and touchdowns.
When the ball isn’t in the air, Rumery has used his legs to get the job done, thanks to 80 carries for 555 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Those legs sometimes need a break, and both Caleb Freeland and Brett Zattoni have given him that relief, and then some. Zattoni eclipsed the 1000-yard mark last week against Bellefonte, while Freeland is on the cusp of that mark himself, while the two have combined for 34 touchdowns this year, 21 of them by Freeland. The ground game is what takes away the clock, and leaves the opposition with little time to come back, especially if worn down and tired.
What the Bison need to do this week is if they are able to start out fast, do so. Averaging 45.5 points per game, the offense is capable of putting up the numbers. Cathedral Prep averages just under 38 per game, but their 9-3 record doesn’t show how good they are.
Clearfield Victory Plan: Start fast, get points, wear out the defense.
Kickoff for the opening round comes on Friday night at 7 p.m., and from here on out it’s neutral sites to host the contest. This week, it’s a trip west for Clearfield as the game will be played at Clarion University. Directions are available on the Bison Football website.