ROARING SPRING — A team really knows how good they are when they are on the road. For the Clearfield Bison their first road game of the year is always a difficult test, and this year was no exception. The first game away from Clearfield meant a long ride to Roaring Spring to put their undefeated record on the line against the also-undefeated Central Dragons.
The game came down to who wanted it more, and when the big play would happen. In the end, the Bison bent, but never broke, as they came up with a late score and a defensive stand to keep their record intact thanks to a 24-21 triumph.
It was a difficult game for the Bison, and even the coaching staff had trouble before the game, improvising exactly how they were going to communicate, something that coach Tim Janocko explained afterwards.
“Our radios were not working. For some reason our batteries got depleted before we got here, I don’t know how. So we were coaching with cell phones,” he explained. “We did make it work, but it certainly was a challenge.”
It seemed as though it was going to be a quick start for the game as the Bison forced a three-and-out on the opening drive, and following a pass to Jake Lezzer to get the ball to midfield, Oliver Billotte showed some athleticism that he hadn’t showcased up till that point. After taking the snap, he broke through the line and cut to the left. At that point once he hit the third level, he was gone, and the opening touchdown of the night came just less than two minutes into the game. Zach Hess added the extra point to make it 7-0.
The second drive for the Dragons ended just as quickly as quarterback Braden Kitt looked to the right side for his receiver, and ultimately overthrew the ball by a few yards, right into the hands of Lezzer as though he was the intended target. The turnover set up Clearfield at their own 25, and they decided on this drive to utilize something that was a struggle a week ago, the ground game.
Methodically, for 11 plays, the idea of riding the clock on the ground helped establish the line of scrimmage, as Billotte, Brett Zattoni, and Jason Plubell all took turns getting yardage. Billotte capped off the drive from four yards out for his second touchdown of the night, and Hess stayed true with his left leg to make it 14-0, where it remained through the first quarter.
Zattoni did not last long in the night as a knee injury took him out early in the first quarter, which meant a lot of youth had to come in, especially on the defensive side of the ball and Janocko got concerned.
“Some real young kids stepped up and made some plays. We had four sophomores on defense after Zattoni went down, so it was interesting,” he said.
Clearfield’s second long drive of the night had a lot of promise, but stalled out in the red zone just inside the 10-yard line, and as upset as Janocko was that they didn’t punch in for six points, Hess did pull through with a 26-yard field goal to make the game 17-0.
For Clearfield, that score was the final one they would see for the half.
Central found its footing on its final drive of the first half when they utilized a balanced game plan to go 12 plays, 58 yards, and capped it off when Jeff Hoenstine tossed to Hunter Klotz for the touchdown with less than a minute until the break. The extra point made it 17-7, however despite Clearfield receiving the second-half kickoff, momentum clearly was in the hands of the Dragons.
That momentum continued when the Bison went three-and-out following the second-half kickoff and the Dragons answered with another long drive of nine plays, and 55 yards, ending with Kitt scampering into the end zone from four yards out. Another P.A.T. and suddenly the game was getting interesting, and the home crowd was getting into it.
Clearfield coaches decided to again rely on the ground game and ride the clock for a while on the ensuing possession. Plubell, Billotte and Mark McGonigal all carried the ball on the drive, but it was the lone carry of Logan Firanski that made an enormous difference in the outcome.
Taking the ball on the R.P.O. hand off, he moved to the right and seemed to get almost to the goal line, but as he was going down, the ball got dislodged from his grasp, and the Dragon defense pounced. One yard away from six points, but instead it meant a touchback and a turnover to give Central the ultimate momentum.
“I think we had a chance to put them away until we fumbled it right there in the end zone. We would’ve gone up two scores right there,” Janocko said of the turnover. “That was huge.”
He wasn’t kidding because the Dragons had all the time in the world as they used just over three minutes of clock, as the game went into the fourth quarter, and Central turned the fumble recovery into their first lead of the night with 11 minutes remaining in the game when Kitt connected for his first passing touchdown to Josh Biesinger, which was a rainbow pass that fell right into his grasp just beyond the Bison defender. An extra point later, and the Bison found themselves somewhere they had yet to experience all year, trailing by a score of 21-17.
Clearfield’s woes continued on the first play of the next drive when McGonigal had the ball stripped from his hands in the backfield, and the second turnover for Clearfield put the defense on their heels.
At that moment, the Bison coaches looked their players in the eyes and simply said three words: Make a play.
They did just that as they stopped the Dragon offense from gaining a first down, and giving them a chance to get the ball back. Despite failing to answer on their next possession, Clearfield again wasn’t giving in, and methodically kept the Dragons again from getting points or yardage. With half a quarter remaining in the game, Billotte and his offense rolled onto the field knowing this could be their only opportunity to get the lead.
McGonigal got the first carry in the drive, just for two yards, but then Billotte connected with Lezzer for 15 yards and a first down. For Lezzer, he caught nine balls on the night for 94 yards, including two on the final drive. But, it was the only other pass completion for Billotte that made a big difference.
Facing 2nd and 8 at the Dragon 25, he dropped back looking to his left, but realizing Lezzer was covered, he quickly looked right and found an open Matt Pallo, who then turned up field and went for 20 yards to set up 1st and Goal at the Dragon five-yard line.
To Janocko, that made all the difference.
“Billotte realized where the open receiver was, and Pallo made an excellent play to get us into position,” Janocko said.
Billotte called his own number on the next play, putting it at the two, and made the Dragon defense nervous. One play later, following the blocking of his line, Billotte punched in his third rushing touchdown of the night, capping over 200 yards of all-purpose offense and putting the Bison back out front. Hess added the extra point, and with just under two minutes remaining, the Dragons had two timeouts and one last opportunity.
Starting at their own 28, Kitt looked over the middle for Biesinger, but the ball fell wide. On second down, following the Dragons taking their second timeout, Hoenstine rumbled for seven yards before the Bison defense stood him up. On third down, Kitt found Zach Imler for what seemed to be a first down, however the ball came loose shortly before he made the line to gain, and Central pounced on the loose ball. What was a first down suddenly became 4th and 3, and after using their last timeout, it was one play to decide the fate of the night.
On the snap, Kitt looked to his left, and let the ball rip for Biesinger. However, Pallo was there to break up the catch, and the visiting sideline erupted in victory as Billotte knelt on the ball to close out the night.
“This was a big win on the road for us. Anytime you can win on the road against a team like Central, it is huge, and for us this feels good,” Janocko said afterwards. He was also winded as the last two weeks have seen both games decided by a combined 11 points. When asked what it was about these close games early in the season, the long-time coach smiled and said, “I’m not sure, although it is aging me, no doubt about that.”
Clearfield (3-0) returns home next Friday night for its homecoming contest against the Bearcats of Huntingdon, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. and homecoming festivities to occur during halftime.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 14 3 0 7 – 24
Central 0 7 7 7 – 21
BISON: 50-yard run by O. Billotte (Hess kick), 9:43
BISON: 4-yard run by O. Billotte (Hess kick), 4:28
BISON: 26-yard field goal by Hess, 10:16
DRAGONS: 8-yard pass from Hoenstine to Klotz (Keith kick), 0:53
DRAGONS: 4-yard run by Kitt (Keith kick), 8:19
DRAGONS: 35-yard pass from Kitt to Biesinger (Keith kick), 11:01
BISON: 2-yard run by O. Billotte (Hess kick), 1:54
First Downs: 16/9
Rush Yards: 223/134
Pass Yards: 114/100
Total Yards: 337/234
Clearfield: O. Billotte-17 carries, 123 yards, 3 TD; Plubell-9 carries, 65 yards; McGonigal-7 carries, 30 yards; Firanski-2 carries, 11 yards; Zattoni-2 carries, 1 yard; Team-2 carries, (-4) yards; I. Billotte-1 carry, (-6) yards.
Central: Kitt-12 carries, 42 yards, TD; Imler-7 carries, 57 yards; Smith-4 carries, 13 yards; Gregg-3 carries, 15 yards; Hoenstine-1 carry, 7 yards.
Clearfield: O. Billotte-9 for 18, 114 yards.
Central-Kitt-10 for 23, 81 yards, TD, INT; Hoenstine-2-for-3, 19 yards, TD.
Clearfield: Lezzer-8 catches, 94 yards; Pallo-1 catch, 20 yards.
Central: Gregg-3 catches, 25 yards; McConahy-2 catches, 16 yards; Hoenstine-2 catches, 11 yards; Biesinger-1 catch, 35 yards, TD; Klotz-1 catch, 8 yards, TD;