HYDE — The youth this year on the Clearfield Bison has shown they are capable of big things, but Friday night’s contest at the Bison Sports Complex was about honoring the seniors that experienced so much success in their time on the field. The small senior class got their honors before game time, but soon after, they were locked in with their underclassmen as they took to the field to face the visiting Bald Eagle Area Bald Eagles.
Opportunities came early for the team clad in black, but other opportunities were missed that cost them dearly. At the end of the night, the Bison were on the wrong end of a 36-28 final, the second time they have lost to Bald Eagle in three seasons.
“Two good teams that each had opportunities. They made plays, we didn’t, and sometimes that can change the whole game,” Bison head coach Tim Janocko said afterwards. “They’re a good football team, and we’re a good football team. It’s just opportunities; you have to convert.”
Clearfield’s night started strong on the opening drive, as Bald Eagle booted the opening kickoff out of bounds, giving the Bison a start at their own 35, and the Bison decided to go old-school. The 11-play drive that ensued only saw two passes from quarterback Oliver Billotte, but saw a major dose of the running game to add on yardage. In the end, Billotte called his own number as he punched the ball in from one yard out to open the scoring. Senior Zach Hess, playing in his final regular season game at the BSC, added the extra point to give Clearfield the lead.
It wasn’t long till another opportunity presented itself, because the Bison defense made a play on the opening drive for Bald Eagle.
On the exchange between quarterback Jaden Jones and Kaden Bittinger on 1st and 10, the second play of the drive, the ball hit the ground and the defensive line pounced.
The turnover paid dividends as the Bison followed up the change of possession by going another seven plays down the field, culminating with Billotte connecting with Matt Pallo on a 4th and 20 for 30 yards, and six points. Hess added another extra point, and Clearfield’s lead extended another possession with just over four minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
Hoping to answer back, Bald Eagle showed they too could make a statement through the air, as Jones would complete four key passes on the following possession, finishing with an 18-yard strike to Mathew Reese for the first score by the visitors. An extra point later, and the lead was cut in half, where it remained 14-7 heading into the second quarter.
The third drive of the game for the Bison was more of a balanced attack, as another 11-play drive was split down the center with runs and passes. Deep balls to Pallo, Logan Firanski and Nick Domico got the Bison in position, and once again Billotte used his legs and size to power the ball into the end zone.
Hess’ left leg made it 21-7 with barely under eight minutes remaining in the half, but the Eagles were not going down easy on this night, as they answered back quickly. On 2nd and 10, Jones found Bittinger for a huge 53-yard gain that set up the visitors in the red zone. Four plays later, the same connection meant six points, but instead of going for the extra point, the Eagles decided to try for two.
This time, Bittinger took the snap and rolled to his right, finding Reese in the end zone for the connection, but it was enough to pull Bald Eagle to within six, 21-15
Clearfield’s final score of the first half was both good, and bad. The drive began with 5:35 remaining on the clock at their own 36, and once more utilized a balanced attack of passing and rushing. It meant a heavy dose of senior running back Brett Zattoni, who finished the drive off with a 12-yard touchdown run to extend the Bison lead. Zattoni’s night ended just shy of 100 yards on the ground, but it was a solid performance.
Hess made the score 28-15, but with 2:22 remaining on the clock, there was still time for Bald Eagle to answer before the half.
They would do just that as Jones connected with his third touchdown strike of the night, this one to Reese, with just under 30 seconds left in the half. The extra point made it 28-22, but it also was one of the biggest momentum shifts of the night, because it was Bald Eagle receiving the second-half kickoff.
Not wanting to waste time, Bald Eagle utilized just four plays to go from its own 47 to pay dirt, as Jones called his own number from 11 yards out to add on a rushing touchdown to his three passing. The extra point put Bald Eagle out front for the first time on the night, 29-22, but Clearfield was ready to answer.
What followed was the longest drive of the entire season for the Bison. Another out of bounds kickoff gave them a start at their own 35 at the 10:55 mark of the quarter, and bit by bit, the yardage was being knocked off. Whether it was Billotte’s arm, Zattoni’s legs, or another Bison star, moving the ball, or the chains. The drive went 16 plays and was just outside the Bald Eagle 5, with Billotte looking to get his team back out front.
The 17th play of the drive saw Billotte get flushed out to his right, but looked for Pallo on the goal line. Instead, the ball suddenly was snatched away by Ben Yetsko just one yard before the goal line.
The 17-play drive went 64 yards down the field, and ate away over eight minutes on the clock, but no points to show for it. That moment surely changed the course of the game, but to Janocko it wasn’t just that moment that changed things.
“It’s here and there, it’s not just one play, it’s everyone. Just a couple things here and there, so we have to watch film and get better from there,” he said. “It was a good football game between two good teams.”
Neither team would find any momentum as the fourth quarter loomed, as Bald Eagle failed to gain much yardage following the turnover, but Clearfield turned the ball over on downs on the next possession.
Bald Eagle’s biggest hit of the final quarter came at the seven-minute mark when running back Tommy Snyder broke free through the Bison secondary and sprinted 47 yards to the end zone. The extra point made it an eight-point margin, meaning Clearfield needed to not only answer, but do so with both a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game and force overtime.
Starting at their own 39, Billotte found Firanski for nine yards, then Zattoni moved the chains. Firanski then received the ball for another nine yards, while Billotte moved the chains two plays later.
Soon, as they moved just outside the red zone, they were faced with 4th and 2, and had to make a game-deciding choice. Lining up in the shotgun, Billotte went classic quarterback draw, and powered for seven yards to move the chains once again.
Then, things began breaking down. Billotte looked for Pallo again over the middle, but fell incomplete. Second down, the ball bounced off Billotte’s hands, and he pounced on the fumble, but the loss put the Bison behind the sticks. On third down, his pass to Firanski went off the fingertips.
A slight reprieve made 4th and 12 suddenly 4th and 7 thanks to an encroachment. But, the game came down to one last gasp.
Back came the snap, a look over the middle, and there was receiver Ian Billotte. The pass left Oliver Billotte’s right hand, but the defense was ready, and knocked the ball to the turf. At that point, the drive ended, and the visitors took a pair of knee downs to close the game and hand Clearfield its second loss of the season.
Despite the loss, Janocko knew his team had the potential to win out the remainder of the season, and were already securely in the post season. At that point, his goal for the team was simple.
“We want to win out, and win in the playoffs. I know we can do that,” he said.
Clearfield (6-2) heads on the road for the final two weeks of the regular season beginning with next Friday’s contest at Philipsburg-Osceola.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Bald Eagle 7 15 7 7 – 36
Clearfield 14 14 0 0 – 28
BISON: O. Billotte 1-yard run (Hess kick), 7:21
BISON: O. Billotte 30-yard pass to Pallo (Hess kick), 4:18
BALD EAGLES: Jones 18-yard pass to Reese (Stere kick), 54.9
BISON: O. Billotte 1-yard run (Hess kick), 7:57
BALD EAGLES: Jones 17-yard pass to Bittinger (Bittinger pass to Reese), 5:53
BISON: Zattoni 12-yard run (Hess kick), 2:22
BALD EAGLES: Jones 14-yard pass to Reese (Stere kick), 28.6
BALD EAGLES: Jones 11-yard run (Stere kick), 10:55
BALD EAGLES: Snyder 47-yard run (Stere kick), 6:59
First Downs: 11/21
Rush Yards: 127/139
Pass Yards: 198/202
Total Yards: 325/341
Bald Eagle: Jones-13 carries, 65 yards, TD; Snyder-3 carries, 47 yards, TD; Team-4 carries, (-5) yards; Reese-2 carries, 17 yards; Bittinger-1 carry, 3 yards.
Clearfield: Zattoni-25 carries, 97 yards, TD; O. Billotte-12 carries, 26 yards, 2 TD; Plubell-4 carries, 2 yards; Firanski-3 carries, 15 yards; Kline-1 carry, 0 yards.
Bald Eagle: Jones-10 for 17, 198 yards, 3 TD; Bittinger-0 for 1.
Clearfield: O. Billotte-20 for 31, 202 yards, TD, INT.
Bald Eagle: Bittinger-4 catches, 85 yards, TD; Reese-3 catches, 44 yards, 2 TD; Eckley-2 catches, 40 yards; McClenahan-1 catch, 29 yards.
Clearfield: Pallo-7 catches, 82 yards, TD; Firanski-5 catches, 47 yards; Domico-3 catches, 22 yards; Zattoni-2 catches, 4 yards; I. Billotte-1 catch, 27 yards; Kline-1 catch, 11; Plubell-1 catch, 9 yards.