WINGATE — A spot in the field of 16 was on the line as a rematch of Mountain League foes took to the field at Alumni Stadium at the Bald Eagle Area High School. On one side, clad in the road whites, were the Clearfield Bison, fresh off a first-round win at home a week prior. The opposition, in their home reds, were the Bellefonte Red Raiders, who got a bye in the opening round.
Much like the matchup in the regular season, one team became one-dimensional. But, that seemed to be how they wanted it. Bellefonte’s offense dug their cleats into the turf, and the Bison defense had little or no answer as to slowing them down. At the final whistle, it was the Red Raiders going 2-0 against the Bison this season, this time with a 35-21 triumph that closed the door on the 2019 Bison season.
“Our kids fought. They came back and had their chances in the fourth quarter. They made a couple more plays than we did,” Bison head coach Tim Janocko said after addressing his team. “I’m happy with the way they fought and came back in the game. We already lost Jake Lezzer, then lost Matt Pallo in the first quarter, it’s tough, but that happens. Our kids fought through it. It was a good football game.”
It was a good football game as both teams came in with the game plan to make the other one-dimensional. For Clearfield, that meant stopping the run, mainly thanks to C.J. Funk and his ability when the ball is in his hands. The Bison, unfortunately, couldn’t find a way to do so as the Red Raiders rumbled for over 300 yards on the ground, accounting for all their scores.
The opening possession went to Bellefonte, and thanks to Funk’s legs it put them in the red zone after five plays. But, it was Nicholas Capparelle that put Bellefonte on the board first on a 17-yard scamper to the outside. An extra point later, barely two minutes into the game, and the Red Raiders held the 7-0 advantage.
Clearfield got stuffed on their opening possession, giving Bellefonte the ball back at their own 24 following a punt. Quarterback Ethan Rossman did most of the work after both Funk and Jalen Emel got Bellefonte into opposing territory. A 1st and 10 run of 32 yards by Rossman put the Red Raiders up by two scores just barely midway through the opening stanza.
Not wanting to fall more, Clearfield fought back on their second possession, using both the ground game of Brett Zattoni and the passing ability of Oliver Billotte. The drive lasted into the second quarter, but Clearfield was finding itself stuffed on three straight plays, and faced 4th and Goal at the one-yard line just as the second quarter was ready to begin.
A simple play call became anything but, because Billotte bobbled the snap before the push into the end zone, and the Red Raiders held strong, forcing a turnover on downs that seemed to set the early tone of the night.
Bellefonte wasted no time as they quickly got out of the shadow of their own end zone, and marched 98 yards down the field, capping the drive with a 6-yard run by Emel. An extra point later, Clearfield suddenly found themselves in a three-possession hole. But, with nine minutes before the half, the entire coaching staff kept the squad energized despite the cold temperatures.
That poise seemed to work because the Bison offense finally put a drive together that resulted in a positive outcome. Billotte made smart throws to Carson Kline, while Zattoni capped off the drive with a one-yard dive that he earned the hard way after seemingly being stuffed for a loss. Zach Hess added the extra point, and momentum suddenly began building for Clearfield.
The ensuing drive for Bellefonte quickly put that momentum squarely in Clearfield’s hands as Rossman made his first, and ultimately only, miscue. On 3rd and 10, he looked to his left for a completion, and instead tossed the ball into the arms of Hayden Kovalick. The turnover jolted the Bison and they quickly turned the turnover into six points eight plays later when Billotte marched into the end zone.
The 21-14 score held heading into halftime, but the Bison were clearly feeling the shift, especially knowing they were getting the kickoff in the third quarter.
Once the third quarter began, possessions were critical for both sides, with neither finding footing to start things off. But, the Bison found their groove on their second drive of the second half, pushing down the field into the red zone. It was then that Billotte looked to his left from the Bellefonte 14, found a streaking Nick Domico heading to the sidelines, and launched a dart right into his arms. A toe-tap with both feet right in front of the official brought the Bison grandstands to a full roar, and with Hess booting the extra point, the third quarter ended with a 21-21 tie, a score that many didn’t expect with 12 minutes left.
That final quarter, Bellefonte decided it was time to stick with what they have done all season long: let Funk do what he does.
Following a Clearfield three-and-out, Bellefonte opened their following drive first with a run by Funk for 18 yards. Two plays later, Rossman broke free for 20 to get in the red zone. Then, Funk ultimately scored his lone touchdown on the night and put the Red Raiders up for good. With 10:45 left in the game, Clearfield was not giving in. A one-possession gap was still small, and the Bison coaches kept everyone positive.
The ensuing drive did not lead to points, and Clearfield booted the ball away, giving the Red Raiders possession at their own 16.
The drive that followed defined the night for both teams. Bellefonte broke free for big runs, not even attempting a pass, while the Bison defense could not stop them. Rossman culminated the drive by plunging into the end zone from 11 yards out to increase the gap to two scores with 2:06 remaining.
Clearfield had one final opportunity, and relied on Billotte’s arm to get the job done. However, after throwing for 135 yards on the night, and with no timeouts to work with, Billotte made one errant throw which was nabbed in the air by Emel for the interception, putting the game on ice and finishing the 2019 season.
“There’s things that went wrong, but our kids didn’t flinch. We have five sophomores starting on defense, so we are going to be okay,” Janocko said. “We put 21 points on the board, so they (Bellefonte) didn’t do many things different than we did. We fumbled there on the one-yard line, so things like that hindered us.”
Clearfield’s season came to an end at 9-3, but that number to Janocko meant a lot considering the things that changed from the team a year ago that went 12-1 and made it to the opening round of the PIAA state playoffs.
“9-3; we had a great season, and improved throughout the year. There is a lot to build on, and in the end, we fought hard tonight against a really good team,” he said.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 0 14 7 0 – 21
Bellefonte 14 7 0 14 – 35
RED RAIDERS: Caparelle 17-yard run (Dann kick). 9:34
RED RAIDERS: Rossman 32-yard run (Dann kick), 7:23
RED RAIDERS: Emel 6-yard run (Dann kick), 9:02
BISON: Zattoni 1-yard run (Hess kick), 4:34
BISON: Billotte 1-yard run (Hess kick), 0:43
BISON: Billotte 14-yard pass to Domico (Hess kick), 3:45
RED RAIDERS: Funk 16-yard run (Dann kick), 10:45
RED RAIDERS: Rossman 11-yard run (Dann kick), 2:06
First Downs: 17/13
Rush Yards: 118/368
Pass Yards: 135/45
Total Yards: 253/413
Clearfield: Zattoni-18 carries, 80 yards, TD; O. Billotte-10 carries, 13 yards, TD; Firanski-2 carries, 12 yards; Plubell 2 carries, (-2) yards; Alban-1 carry, 12 yards; Bloom-0 carries, 4 yards.
Bellefonte: Funk-20 carries, 193 yards, TD; Rossman-11 carries, 99 yards, 2 TD; Capparelle-4 carries, 40 yards, TD; Emel-2 carries, 21 yards, TD; Grey-2 carries, 5 yards; Team-2 carries, (-4) yards.
Clearfield: O. Billotte-15 for 32, 135 yards, TD, INT
Bellefonte: Rossman-4 for 7, 45 yards, INT
Clearfield: Kline-9 catches, 81 yards; Firanski-2 catches, 25 yards; Domico-1 catch, 14 yards, TD; Pallo-1 catch, 5 yards, I. Billotte-1 catch, 5 yards; Zattoni-1 catch, 3 yards.
Bellefonte: Funk-1 catch, 21 yards; Nadolsky-1 catch, 17 yards; Bauman-1 catch, 13 yards; Lehman-1 catch, (-6) yards.