HYDE — The most nerve-wracking game of the entire football season for the Clearfield Bison finally arrived. The first official game, the Lezzer Lumber King of the Mountain Classic, against the DuBois Beavers would give them a tough challenge to see just where they stack up entering the 2019 campaign.
Was it flawless…no, but the first game of the year never is. Was it successful…indeed. The Bison forced three turnovers, all leading to points, while a star receiver in his third year of playing helped the Bison treat the home crowd at the Bison Sports Complex to a 31-20 triumph to start the new season.
“DuBois is a good football team. They are going to win a lot of games,” Bison head coach Tim Janocko said afterwards. “We had some mistakes tonight, which you expect in the first game, but we played well on both sides of the ball, executed, and got the win.”
The biggest questions that got answered were how new starting quarterback Oliver Billotte would handle the offense and how the young defense would adapt.
Billotte only made 12 passes on the night, but completed nine of them. At the end of the night, he compiled 208 yards through the air, three total touchdowns to only one interception, plus a rushing score. On the defense, the secondary came up big with three huge interceptions that all led to scoring opportunities, halting momentum for the Beavers all night long.
Neither team found momentum in the early going, swapping three-and-outs through the first four drives. But, DuBois fell victim to the turnover on their third possession. After a strong completion by Beavers quarterback Alex Kovalyak, two plays later he saw the drive shut down when Jake Lezzer snatched the pass right out from the receiver, setting up Clearfield at its own 21 with a lot of confidence.
Billotte methodically worked the offense down the field, and culminated the drive with his first of many spectacular throws on the night.
At the Dubois 30, he looked left for Karson Kline, and put the arc on the pass to fall directly into his waiting hands. The first score of the season put the Bison in the lead, and Zach Hess put his left foot to work as he nailed the extra point to secure the 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.
The Beavers were not letting that lead set in as on the ensuing drive, they answered back by marching down the field in seven plays, capping the push with Adian Castro’s 1-yard plunge into the end zone. The extra point tied the game early in the second quarter, with a lot of game yet to go.
Clearfield tried to answer back, but when they got into the red zone, Billotte made his biggest mistake as he tried to get a pass over the middle, but saw the linebackers of DuBois snatch the ball directly out of the air, and in an instant a promising drive suddenly was dead.
However, just two plays later, the Bison answered back with an interception of its own, setting themselves up with a short field, and a chance to reclaim the lead.
Billotte assured that when he came up clutch. Facing 4th and 7 at the Beavers 17, he looked to the right and saw Jake Lezzer on a wheel route to the corner of the end zone. He went for it, and Lezzer pulled in the game-changing touchdown reception to put the Bison ahead. Hess booted the extra point, and the 14-7 score would remain through the final five minutes of the first half. Ultimately, that would be the final lead change on the night.
Janocko knew he had a lot of talent in his receiving corps, and with the Bison struggling on the ground, they came in big as the night wore on. At the same time, he acknowledged that his offensive line was playing an exceptional game as they kept their quarterback from being sacked the entire game.
“I think both sides of the ball our lines were playing well. They helped set the tone by keeping Billotte upright, while also tackling well on the defense. They set the tone,” Janocko said.
The third quarter didn’t start well for the Bison as Billotte found himself on the wrong end of a fumble, the second turnover for the Bison. But, three plays later, Lezzer began what would ultimately be an enormous second half for him by snagging his second interception.
With the third turnover of the night for the Beavers, the visiting defense did not want to give up another touchdown after being forced to change possession. For them, keeping the Bison out of the end zone was a win, as they held Clearfield to only four positive yards on the ensuing drive. But, Hess then showed his range as he nailed a 23-yard field goal to give Clearfield a 17-7 advantage with 6:40 remaining in the third quarter.
DuBois would answer the field goal with a long, 11-play drive that ate up over four minutes on the clock, culminating when Kovalyak found Nick Dilullo for a nine-yard touchdown pass-and-catch. An extra point later, and the lead was cut down to three points once again.
At that point, Clearfield turned to what got them this far into the contest, a methodical run game that set up deep passes. Faced with 3rd-and-18 at the DuBois 46, a near identical play that gave them the lead in the second quarter helped get the Bison out of a deep hole as Billotte found Lezzer along the sideline in tight coverage, setting up 1st-and-10 in the red zone.
One play later, Billotte decided to tuck the ball away, and showed why it’s hard to stop a 6’4″ young man that wouldn’t quit on a run. Despite three Beavers trying to bring him down, he pushed forward and dove across the goal line to add a rushing touchdown to his stat sheet. Hess added the extra point, and a two-possession gap was back in place with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game.
That still left enough time for the Beavers to make something happen, and the Beavers made that happen in a big way. Facing 3rd-and-19 at their own 18, Kovalyak connected with Dilullo once again, and this time quickness won out as a 72-yard sprint ensued to give DuBois some life and hope in the waning minutes. The extra point was blocked, leaving the score 24-20.
The kickoff that followed set the tone for the remainder of the game.
Brett Zattoni took the ball and found a seam for a 58-yard return to put Clearfield in opposing territory. On the first play of the drive, Billotte had a case of “same song, second verse.” On a crossing route from the right side, he laid a pass in the air that only Lezzer could find, and in mere seconds, the junior receiver pulled in his second touchdown of the night, capping a performance of nearly 190 yards of offense, plus a pair of interceptions. Hess’ left leg was true again, setting the final 31-20 score as the Bison defense halted the Beavers on the following drive and ultimately ran out the clock to give them their first win of the season.
Janocko had a smile on his face afterwards, but immediately acknowledged that beginning the following day, his team would start improving.
“We had some mistakes tonight, like penalties, that we need to clean up. That’s expected with the first game, but I’m real proud of the team, coaches, and everyone associated with this group,” he said. But, when asked if he could give his team an overall grade, Janocko simply chuckled and replied, “I’d have to review the film. But, I’d give it a ‘W.'”
Clearfield (1-0) starts Mountain League play next Friday night when they host the Rams of Penns Valley, who are coming off a lop-sided 77-0 victory over Fairfield.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Dubois 0 7 7 6 – 20
Clearfield 7 7 3 14 – 31
BISON: 30-yard pass from Billotte to Kline (Hess kick), 2:17
BEAVERS: 1-yard run by Castro (Bussell kick), 11:34
BISON: 17-yard pass from Billotte to Lezzer (Hess kick), 5:00
BISON: 23-yard Field Goal by Hess, 6:40
BEAVERS: 9-yard pass from Kovalyak to Dilullo (Bussell kick), 2:19
BISON: 12-yard run by Billotte (Hess kick), 10:32
BEAVERS: 72-yard pass from Kovalyak to Dilullo (Bussell kick blocked), 8:09
BISON: 42-yard pass from Billotte to Lezzer (Hess kick), 7:53
First Downs: 11/12
Rush Yards: 17/151
Pass Yards: 322/208
Total Yards: 339/359
DuBois: Estrada-8 carries, 1 yard; Kovalyak-8 carries, (-6) yards; Castro-5 carries, 22 yards, TD.
Clearfield: Zattoni-14 carries, 44 yards; Billotte-9 carries, 43 yards, TD; Plubell-5 carries, 9 yards; Firanski-2 carries, 30 yards; Lezzer-2 carries, 18 yards; Team-1 carry, (-3) yards.
DuBois: Kovalyak-21 for 36, 322 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT.
Clearfield: Billotte-9 for 12, 208 yards, 3 TD, INT.
DuBois: Dilullo-7 catches, 158 yards, 2 TD; Kot-7 catches, 113 yards; Shilala-3 catches, 36 yards; Estrada-2 catches, 4 yards; Husted-1 catch, 15 yards; Eisman-1 catch, (-1) yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-6 catches, 169 yards, 2 TD; Zattoni-2 catches, 15 yards; Kline-1 catch, 30 yards, TD.