The chill of November has set in, and it has the feeling of playoff football. A week ago, the quest to a state championship began for teams across the state, some starting it on the road, while others started on their home field. Now, starting with this week’s action, no team will have a home-field advantage.
In Class 4A, the quest for that championship comes down to familiar foes, who already spent one Friday night on the field in competition. In a rematch from the Mountain League, the No. 2 seed Clearfield Bison are looking to avenge their first loss of the 2019 season when they square off against the No. 1 seed Bellefonte Red Raiders.
It was back on September 27 when these two met up for the first time. Then-unbeaten Clearfield traveled to face Bellefonte, who already had one loss on their record, and got stunned in a heartbreaking 28-19 defeat.
The Red Raiders came out physical, pounding the Bison on both sides of the ball, including hammering the Bison star wideout/safety, Jake Lezzer.
Unfortunately for the Bison, a week later their then-leading receiver only achieved one stat line before falling to injury, a knee injury that officially ended his junior season at the midway point. Clearfield recovered in the four games since, outscoring their opponents 144-65. During that time, Clearfield had one victory via forfeit.
Bellefonte, on the other hand, has only played three games since they last faced Clearfield. The Red Raiders had a bye-week during the season, much like the Bison, courtesy of a forfeit victory, but outscored their opponents 98-21 in that time. In addition, Bellefonte is coming off a bye week in the opening round of the playoffs, which may mean fresher legs and more stamina.
Both these teams are capable of victory, with solid foundations from each coaching staff, and the kids on the field. Here’s a look from both sides of the ball as to the keys to victory.
Clearfield Offense vs. Bellefonte Defense
All season long, the Bison offense has been dynamic, despite a first-year starting quarterback. The heart of the Clearfield offense has remained the same since last season, with a veteran offensive line, returning running backs, and a squad of receivers that all have come together as the season wore on.
The Bison average over 325 yards of offense per game, with a much even ratio of run to pass.
It all starts with the protection of the front line that has allowed quarterback Oliver Billotte to make great decisions as the first-year starting quarterback. Billotte through 10 games has a QBR of 100.8, throwing for almost 1800 yards, 16 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
His receiving group, though, changed midway through the season. Following the game with Bellefonte, Billotte lost his first-option receiver, Lezzer, and had to quickly learn that his go-to set of hands had to change. What changed was instead of looking for No. 4 all the time, he spread the ball around to eight other receivers. Each has at least nine receptions, with Nick Domico, Jason Plubell and Brett Zattoni each accounting for 10 receptions each. When it comes to scoring, the young man that has become a scoring machine has been Matt Pallo, as he leads the team with six receiving touchdowns on the season.
When Billotte isn’t hurling bombs down the field, the ground game has been stellar for the entire 2019 season. Zattoni is just 63 yards away from hitting 1000 yards in his senior season, second only in rushing touchdowns to Billotte (12 compared to 13). The Bison will be looking to establish the ground game to cut down on the time the Red Raiders will have the ball.
For Clearfield to accomplish this victory, they will need to overcome what shut them down in the previous meeting: becoming one-dimensional, and turnovers. However, with the way Bellefonte plays, that is easier said than done.
Bellefonte Offense vs. Clearfield Defense
The Red Raiders are coming off a first-round bye in the District 6/9 subregional, and although that will mean the entire team will be fresh and ready, not playing could be at a disadvantage. Their week off is the second in three weeks, as they were awarded a 1-0 forfeit victory when Bishop Carroll could not field a team due to injuries.
But, those weeks off meant that the Red Raider offense is ready to unleash CJ Funk on the Bison once again.
Funk has run for 1255 yards on the season, including 137 against Clearfield, with 85 of them coming on one touchdown run.
With an average of 12 yards per carry, Clearfield’s entire focus automatically goes to No. 18, but a team that is averaging 350 yards per game isn’t one-dimensional. Quarterback Ethan Rossman has the same QBR as Billotte, throwing for 903 yards this season, 11 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Five of those touchdown passes went to Trae Bowman, with Mason Grey pulling in another three.
When Funk isn’t the one carrying the ball, Rossman has shown he can reach the end zone with his legs, rushing for 493 yards and three scores. Also Jaden Emel has run hard with 356 yards to his credit and four scores.
Clearfield’s focus is to stop the running game, not just Funk, but entirely. Bellefonte can be a completely different team when they have only one type of offense, which plays right in the hands of the Bison defense. Clearfield cannot afford to give Bellefonte any opportunities. Just as in their previous meeting; if that happens, the Bison will have a difficult task playing from behind, something they have not done much of this year.
These two Mountain League foes have one last face-off this season. One moves into the PIAA state bracket for Class 4A, while the other will see their 2019 campaign come to a close. Kickoff for this championship game is at 7 p.m. and will take place at the Bald Eagle Area High School.