SLIPPERY ROCK — What was originally to be a short trip to Clarion University on Friday, turned into a postponement for PIAA officials after the first winter storm of the year. So, for the Clearfield Bison and the Cathedral Prep Ramblers, they had to not only wait a day to compete, but also wait on a venue. That wait was short, as the Mihalik-Thompson Stadium on the campus of Slippery Rock University cleared the turf of the snow, and would play host to the first round of the PIAA state playoffs for Class 4A on Saturday night.
This night was decided not just by tough play, but ultimately mistakes and uncontrollable instances. For the Bison, it was their miscues and key injuries that pulled the parachute on their 2018 campaign, as the Ramblers capitalized on five Bison turnovers to advance in the tournament in a 55-21 final, ending the Bison’s undefeated season.
“We really hurt ourselves a couple times early that put us behind. But we were right in it until a couple minutes left in the first half,” Head coach Tim Janocko said afterwards. “We had a great season, great team, and a great bunch of kids. I’m very proud of them, competed the whole time, just unfortunate that things didn’t go our way tonight.”
Clearfield opened the night on offense following a touchback on the kickoff, and Rumery began doing what he was doing all season, looking for his key receivers and trusting the legs of Brett Zattoni to get the ball into Rambler territory. On 2nd and 10 at the opposing 34, Rumery looked to his left for the dagger to start the night, but that dagger suddenly was stolen away when Jaelen Carson stepped in front of the pass, and halted the opening drive at the one-yard line. It was only the fourth interception on the season for Rumery, but a big one on the night.
Still, with 99 yards to go, it was going to take strategy to get down the field. But, for Cathedral Prep, all it needed was a long ball and an open receiver.
Their second offensive play saw Connor Schleicher look right over the middle as Jack Oedekoven streaked through the secondary, capturing the first pass of the night, and sprinting directly to the end zone for the opening score, a 97-yard strike that took a lot of wind from the Bison sidelines and grandstands. Colin Kelly booted the extra point for the early 7-0 lead.
If the one turnover was bad enough, the BIson were in for a stunning turn of events on the second drive.
Rumery was having trouble bringing in the snaps, as they were going rather high for his arms. On 1st and 10 at his own 47, the reach was not enough as the ball sailed over his head, and the Rambler defense fell on the ball for the second turnover in as many drives.
Cathedral Prep did not waste time in deciding what to do on this possession, because they took the short field and in less than two minutes, scored a second time, this time with Schleicher using his legs to power in from just outside the goal line. Another P.A.T. gave the Ramblers a 14-0 lead with half a quarter to play.
Hoping to settle down his offense, Janocko trusted Rumery to get going, and did so on the first pass of the ensuing drive, a 16-yard strike to Lynch to bring the ball closer to mid-field.
His second pass on the drive went to Jake Lezzer, but it seemed to go through his hands and hit the turf. Or…did it?
Officials never blew the whistle, deeming that Lezzer made a football move, with possession, and lost control. The loose ball was scooped up by the Ramblers for the third Bison turnover in as many drives. Janocko tried to argue the point that the ball wasn’t in control, but it was a moot point, and Cathedral Prep took over once again.
This time, the Bison defense stood tall and stopped the Ramblers at the 18-yard line, forcing Kelly to come out and attempt a 35-yard field goal from the right hash. The hold and snap went excellent, but Kelly could not get the ball to hook enough to make it through the uprights. A positive following the turnover, and the Clearfield offense felt recharged.
They certainly felt the momentum on the ensuing drive when Rumery completed consecutive passes to Lynch and Spencer Graham to put them just outside the goal line. Rumery then called his own number, scoring the opening Bison touchdown of the night. Zach Hess booted the point after, and it suddenly was a one-possession game with 9:50 left in the half.
“Turnovers hurt, and we made some mistakes, but we were still there, still in it,” Janocko said of the first-half miscues. “You get on this stage at this level, you can’t make mistakes. We recovered and made plays when we needed to.”
The score went back to a gap of 14, at 21-7, with 4:35 remaining when Schleicher connected with Michael Lupo from just four yards out, and Kelly again was true with his right foot.
Clearfield answered back when Rumery found Graham from a mere two yards to make it 21-14 with 2:47 remaining. That, ultimately was the last time the Bison would see the end zone for a long while, as things began unraveling.
Schleicher answered the passing touchdown of Rumery with his second rushing score of the half with 42 seconds remaining, pushing the score to 28-14. Rumery then on the first play following the score found Lynch for a 13-yard gain to the 38-yard line. However, Lynch took several hits when being tackled, including some that possibly came after the whistle. He would stay on the turf, clearly in pain, and the Bison offensive line showed signs of frustration and anger as they came to their own sidelines to take a knee as they waited on trainers to look at Lynch. Rumery stayed with his teammate, and then helped him to the sidelines with what appeared to be a knee injury.
This came after on the previous touchdown drive, Eli Glass hauled in a pass to set up Rumery’s scoring run, but he too was in pain and had to be escorted off the field.
Rumery and his offense came back out, hoping to get something from the drive before heading into the locker room. The first down play saw the Penn State bound quarterback get flushed out to his right, and he threw the ball in the direction of Lezzer. The downside of the pass, it went into the hands of Kelly, who then found a seam on the Bison sidelines and roared 55 yards to the end zone as the clock expired. The pick-six took all the wind from the sails of Clearfield, and heading into the locker room, Cathedral Prep felt good with a 35-14 advantage.
The Ramblers came out from the locker room still fired up, and seemed to begin sinking the ship on the Bison with their opening drive of the third quarter, as Schleicher found Oedekoven for a second time, this time from 26 yards away, as he reached over Lezzer for the third passing touchdown on the night. Kelly again was true, and the 42-14 gap was feeling as though it would be too much to overcome.
What happened following the score, in reality, was too much for the Bison to overcome, because a key component to their offense was about to have the kind of play no one wants to see.
Rumery handed off to Zattoni, and helped try to push the pile forward, but suddenly the pile fell onto him, and you could hear the moans of pain. Rumery clinched his leg, with many fearing of the worst. The pain screams lightened, and the trainers could begin hearing him describe what he was feeling.
With the help of Janocko, and a few other teammates, he was carried off the field with what appeared to be an ankle injury, but ultimately was the final play he would ever suit up for as a Bison. His night ended with 122 yards passing, two total touchdowns, and two interceptions.
“Injuries really took a toll on us. Eli, offensively and especially defensively, then losing Taye, losing Isaac, those are things you just can’t control,” Janocko said. “That’s the hand you’re dealt, and you play with the hand you’re dealt. There’s not much you can do except keep the kids up, and keep working with them, and just keep playing hard. That’s all you can do.”
With Rumery on the sidelines, Oliver Billotte came into the game to take over on offense, as he looked to be the next in line to lead the Bison offense starting next season.
Sadly for him, he didn’t see the field much as Clearfield was forced to punt, and two plays later, Billy Lucas scored his lone touchdown on the night on a 21-yard run that saw him avoid four different tackles. When Kelly booted the extra point, the 49-14 score meant that with 8:14 remaining in the third quarter, the game clock was running constantly except for scores, timeouts, penalties, and change of possession.
Billotte’s night did not get off to a great start as he threw the third interception overall by the Bison offense, this one into the hands of Luke Sittinger.
The ensuing possession saw a familiar finish, as Schleicher once again found Oedekoven for a touchdown pass and catch, this time from 19 yards out, right as time expired in the third quarter. The ensuing extra point was botched when the snap was mishandled, leaving the score 55-14 heading into the final quarter.
Clearfield’s final score of the night came on their last possession, which began near mid-field thanks to an interception by Logan Firanski. Billotte tossed his first-career varsity touchdown to Freeland with 41 seconds left in the game, and Hess added the final score of the season to make the 55-21 final.
Janocko was impressed with his backup quarterback coming in, just wished it was under different circumstances.
“Not the way I wanted it to happen. But you can see, there’s a lot of promise there, and potential. He’s a freshman, and playing on this level, he performed very well,” he stated. “He’d like to have a couple throws back, but that’s growing pains. Even Logan Firanski with that interception in the fourth quarter. We’ll bounce back and start over next year.”
Clearfield ended the season at 12-1, but to come back from a 6-5 campaign a season ago in Janocko’s eyes, and all they accomplished this year with records being broken, championships being won, he was grateful for the play on the field. But as the players were heading to greet their parents, brothers, sisters, and other family, he also had something else to be thankful for: Clearfield itself.
“Without question, I have to thank everyone in our community for all their support this season. Our fire companies, the elementary schools, our student body, everybody,” Janocko said with enthusiasm. “We had a lot of support throughout the week, and the entire season. I want to thank those people.
“We are one community, one town, and I cannot say enough about them.”
Cathedral Prep moves into the PIAA quarter finals against South Fayette next weekend.
- Clearfield was held to under 100 yards rushing for the first time in 2018.
- Caleb Freelend eclipsed the 1000-yard rushing mark, giving Clearfield two running backs with 1000+ yards on the season, the other being Brett Zattoni.
- With his 122 yards on the night, Rumery finishes his career as the all-time leading passer in Bison football history His career stats: 383 for 628, 7128 yards, 78 touchdowns, 28 interceptions, 1595 yards rushing, 26 rushing touchdowns.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Cathedral Prep 14 21 20 0 – 55
Clearfield 0 14 0 7 – 21
RAMBLERS: 97-yard pass from Schleicher to Oedekoven (Kelly kick), 7:27
RAMBLERS: 1-yard run by Schleicher (Kelly kick), 7:27
BISON: 2-yard run by Rumery (Hess kick), 9:50
RAMBLERS: 4-yard pass from Schleicher to Lupo (Kelly kick), 4:35
BISON: 2-yard pass from Rumery to Graham (Hess kick), 2:47
RAMBLERS: 8-yard run by Schleicher (Kelly kick), 0:42
RAMBLERS: 55-yard interception return by Kelly (Kelly kick), 0:00
RAMBLERS: 26-yard pass from Schleicher to Oedekoven (Kelly kick), 10:24
RAMBLERS: 21-yard run by Lucas (Kelly kick), 8:49
RAMBLERS: 19-yard pass from Schleicher to Oedekoven (Conversion Failed), 0:00
BISON: 14-yard pass from Billotte to Freeland (Hess kick), 0:41
First Downs: 17/16
Rush Yards: 328/97
Pass Yards: 252/156
Total Yards: 580/253
Time of Possession: 24:27/23:33
Cathedral Prep: Lucas-17 carries, 174 yards, TD; Schleicher-7 carries, 31 yards, 2 TD; Sittinger-5 carries, 78 yards; Johnson-4 carries, 22 yards; Gusek-3 carries, 24 yards; Team-1 carry, (-1) yards.
Clearfield: Zattoni-11 carries, 47 yards; Freeland-7 carries, 53 yards; Billotte-5 carries, (-2) yards; Rumery-6 carries, (-1) yards, TD.
Cathedral Prep: Schleicher-10 for 14, 252 yards, 4 TD; Sample-0 for 2, INT.
Clearfield: Rumery-10 for 15, 122 yards, TD, 2 INT; Billotte-3 for 7, 34 yards, TD, INT.
Cathedral Prep: Oedekoven-4 catches, 180 yards, 3 TD; Baldi-3 catches, 37 yards; Neely-3 catches, 39 yards; Lupo-1 catch, 4 yards.
Clearfield: Lynch-5 catches, 103 yards; Graham-3 catches, 11 yards, TD; Freeland-2 catches, 31 yards, TD; Lezzer-2 catches, 11 yards; Glass-1 catch, 8 yards.