HYDE — Football in November means one thing: playoffs. It is now win, or the season ends, and no team is more aware of that than the Clearfield Bison. For the red and black, the quest for a championship began Friday night in the District 6-9 sub-regional semifinal, as they would host the opening round contest against the visiting Juniata Indians.
With fans on both sides bundled up as though it was winter, the turf got red hot thanks to the offensive line of the Bison, as they opened up holes all night long, not needing to air the ball out. Add one more week to the Bison schedule thanks to a 35-7 triumph that puts them in the District Finals.
“Our offensive line played great tonight, and I think our defense played exceptionally well,” Bison Head Coach Tim Janocko said afterwards. “Juniata has some athletes, no question. But we came ready, and it means another week for us.”
The Bison rolled all over the visiting Indians, out-rushing them in the contest 217 yards to 81, and got started early on the night following an opening three-and-out by the Indians. The host’s five-play drive only saw quarterback Oliver Billotte throw the ball one time. The remaining plays all occurred on the ground, culminating with Jose Alban taking a jet sweep around the left side for the opening score. Zach Hess did what he does best, add on points, and it was a quick 7-0 lead for the home squad.
It was the Bison defense that made a statement on the next drive. Facing 3rd and 9 from his own 27, Juniata’s Jacob Condo looked left for his receiver and saw the ball get tipped. All the while, Nick Domico saw the tip go towards the ground, and he dove on the ball for a highlight reel interception, allowing the offense to start on the positive side of the field thanks to the game’s first turnover.
Four plays later, Brett Zattoni rumbled from 17 yards out to achieve his first touchdown of the game. The 14-0 gap held heading into the latter part of the first quarter, but the Bison defense was not done making plays.
It became a case of deja vu because the next drive, it was Matt Pallo making the interception, making the long return into Juniata territory. However, his return was stopped because just as the Indians turned the ball over, Pallo saw his return stripped from his hands, and the Indians pounced on the loose ball. As if it was a glitch in the newest Madden football game, Clearfield got a turnover, then committed a turnover, giving Juniata a fresh offensive possession heading into the second quarter.
But, the Bison defense dug their cleats into the turf and after 11 plays, the Indians turned the ball over on downs, giving Clearfield yet another chance to add points onto the board.
With fresh legs on offense, the Bison again stuck to the old-school mentality of running the ball, controlling the clock, and scoring points. Zattoni culminated the drive once again with a touchdown run, this time from 14 yards out, and Hess put the ball through the uprights to make it 21-0 with just over half a quarter until halftime.
Clearfield’s final scoring drive of the first half had a familiar end, but to get to that point Billotte did have to utilize his arm a couple times with passes of 12 and 26 yards to get his offense in striking distance. Zattoni culminated his strong first half with a quick three-yard rumble, his third of the game, and watched as Hess made it 28-0 heading into the locker room.
Zattoni finished the night with 105 yards on the ground, and three scores. Billotte, although not needing to pass as much, went 6-for-8 for 109 yards.
Janocko’s squad wasted no time in the third quarter to get back on the board, as after receiving the kickoff, they marched 59 yards down the field, 34 of them on a Billotte pass to Pallo, for another score, this time from Jason Plubell on a 7-yard scamper. Hess made the score 35-0, and at the 8:32 mark in the third quarter the running clock went into effect.
The Clearfield head coach was happy to not just have his team perform like they did, but to actually be playing the opening round of playoff football.
“I’m glad we are playing. You know we had that one week where we didn’t play (against P-O), and I didn’t like it,” he said. “It had us out of sorts a bit. It’s now November, we’re playing football. Things are good now.”
By the fourth quarter, most of the Bison starters were getting their rest after a strong showing, but the Indians kept their varsity squad in for another few drives, and took advantage to get the final score of the night. Condo managed to connect with his split end Emannual O’Donell on a fade down the right side for a long 65-yard strike. The extra point set the 35-7 final, as despite Clearfield turning the ball over on downs on their final possession, the running clock struck zeroes.
Clearfield (9-2) now faces a familiar foe when they take the field next week as they face the No. 1 seed in the Class 4A bracket for the District 6-9 finals, the Bellefonte Red Raiders. It was back on September 27 when these two met the first time on Bellefonte’s home turf, the Red Raiders stunning the then-unbeaten Bison, 28-19. Janocko already knows his team is in for a tough contest, already looking ahead to what must be done.
“We have to limit (CJ) Funk,” he said. “We know what he can do, but we have another week, and that’s what matters.”
The game between Clearfield and Bellefonte is slated for either Friday night or Saturday. Exact time will be determined at the beginning of the week, along with the location, as moving forward playoff games will occur at a neutral site.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Juniata 0 0 0 7 – 7
Clearfield 14 14 7 0 – 35
BISON: Alban 10-yard run (Hess kick), 7:58
BISON: Zattoni 17-yard run (Hess kick), 5:22
BISON: Zattoni 14-yard run (Hess kick), 6:30
BISON: Zattoni 3-yard run (Hess kick), 2:25
BISON: Plubell 7-yard run (Hess kick), 8:32
INDIANS: Condo 65-yard pass to O’Donell (Shellenberger kick), 5:00
First Downs: 7/15
Rush Yards: 81/217
Pass Yards: 111/109
Total Yards: 192/326
Juniata: Condo-13 carries, 27 yards; Bailer-6 carries, 11 yards; Seeger-6 carries, 7 yards; Kint-4 carries, 27 yards; Musser-1 carry, 5 yards; Martin-1 carry, 4 yards.
Clearfield: Zattoni-13 carries, 105 yards, 3 TD; McGonigal-6 carries, 25 yards; Plubell-5 carries, 35 yards, TD; Freeland-4 carries, 7 yards; Firanski-3 carries, 24 yards; O. Billotte-2 carries, (-1) yards; I. Billotte-1 carry, 12 yards; Alban-1 carry, 10 yards, TD.
Juniata: Condo-6 for 16, 113 yards, TD, 2 INT.
Clearfield: O. Billotte-6 for 8, 109 yards.
Juniata: Rank-2 catches, 15 yards; O’Donell-1 catch, 65 yards, TD; Bailer-1 catch, 16 yards; Kint-1 catch, 9 yards; Seeger-1 catch, 6 yards.
Clearfield: Pallo-2 catches, 60 yards; Kline-2 catches, 21 yards; I. Billotte-1 catch, 16 yards; Firanski-1 catch, 12 yards.