The 2020 calendar year has been one of many questions, a lot of wonder, concern, and fear. At the same time, as summer continued, the worry suddenly took over everyone’s mindset as the school year was fast approaching. The worry of if sending students back to school, in the midst of a pandemic, was the right or wrong move. Parents and students alike had to figure out if they felt secure going into the actual building was their best option, or having to learn remotely was their better choice.
More than anything, student-athletes wondered if they actually were going to be just that entering the fall season. The wonder of if the PIAA would go forward with any season of any kind was plentiful among kids, parents, and coaches.
Hearing the decision that the PIAA would commence with the fall season was an uplifting moment for the entire state of Pennsylvania, meaning that the “boys of fall” would have their season. However, for a while at least, that season would have a different look. The Clearfield Area School District understood this, and with Superintendent Terry Struble’s approval of a health and safety plan, practices began for the 2020 Bison football team.
On the field, the potential for success is there following last season’s 9-3 campaign that finished just short of a District 6/9 championship. But from the field looking up, it has a different feeling. However, despite the view from the field towards the empty, or near empty, grandstands looking unfamiliar, what is not changing is the focus of the Bison when competing.
Like every year, Janocko’s goal is to take it week-by-week, and not look too far ahead. In order to do that, they have to simply play their style of football. If the Bison can control the game, play to their strengths, another championship could be in their future.
Let’s take a look at the key points on both sides of the ball for the 2020 Clearfield Bison.
The old saying is, “Offense wins games. Defense wins championships.” Clearfield has shown over the years, no matter how their offense is set up, whether spreading the ball out or sometimes sticking with a classic style, their defense consistently is playing downhill to give their offense opportunities.
In 2019, Clearfield not only excelled on defense, but for a majority of the season, they were in shut down mode.
Last year the Bison were averaging 39 tackles per game, and of those 34 of them were for a loss of yardage, an astonishing 87 percent rate per game. Of those tackles, 19 of them were sacks. In fact, in the 11 games played last season, the defense only gave up over 35 points on three occasions, two of them resulting in losses.
Clearfield lost some major players in key spots from last year on defense, such as Allen Myers, Brett Zattoni, and Ian Heitsenrether. But, the Bison are getting back their leading tackler, and enter the season with depth and experience on the line, in the linebackers, and secondary. The key returner from a season ago is senior Nick Domico. At middle linebacker, Domico set the pace for Clearfield a season ago with a team-high 84 tackles, more than double than any other Bison on the squad, adding in a fumble recovery and interception to his resume.
Add in the fact that returning with him will be both Ian and Oliver Billotte, Hayden Kovalick, and Karson Kline, and it is shaping up to be a very tough defense for 2020.
The biggest addition to the Bison entering this year is more of a return than an addition. After a season-ending knee injury took him off the field after just seven games, Jake Lezzer is back on the field in the secondary for Clearfield. In those seven games, he contributed 28 tackles, plus three interceptions. The now-senior saw his season stolen from him when the team needed him the most, which also was hard on the Lezzer family as big brother Christian was on the sidelines as an assistant and had to see it happen.
With one year left to put on the black and red, Lezzer is hoping to contribute in multiple ways for the team, but especially defensively as the Bison dropped two of their final four games a year ago.
Clearfield has long shown that despite how strong, and explosive, their offense is, defensively they do not change what works. Should they be able to come together in the week before the season begins, the Bison will be on lock down once again as the year moves forward.
The hopes of a strong defense that is returning for the 2020 campaign will pay major dividends on the opposite side of the ball. Last season, the Bison offense was above the national average for their school size, averaging almost 340 yards per game, and 50 touchdowns. The offensive line proved they could mesh together quickly, and provided then-new starting quarterback Oliver Billotte a lot of time to throw the ball, and provided the running backs holes to gain yards on the ground.
Billotte proved to be an all-around stud at the quarterback position, winning the team’s most valuable player award at the season-ending banquet. In his first year of being the team starter, he threw for 1903 yards, completed over 50 percent of his passes, and tossed 17 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions. He also proved to be tough to tackle in the open field, rushing for 400 yards and scoring 14 times using his feet instead of his arm.
He returns this year hoping to continue that streak, and will do so with an entire returning receiving group that accounted for nearly all his passing yards.
The team’s leading receiver from a season ago, Jake Lezzer, is ready for a full season of action. As stated prior, just as he was important in the secondary, he comes back as the leading receiver, with 619 yards and four scores in just seven games from a year ago. Along with him, fellow senior Matt Pallo and junior Karson Kline are giving Billotte many targets to get the ball in the air. Add in Domico at tight end and that combines for 15 of the 17 receiving touchdowns from a year ago.
When the ball isn’t in the air, the Bison will be looking to drain some clock on the ground while also wearing out the defensive front seven. What is a challenge is replacing someone with the skill and caliber of Brett Zattoni, who ended his senior season with 1017 rushing yards and 13 scores. Billotte was second on the list in rushing, but trying to fill the void left by Zattoni is not as clear cut.
It is expected that senior Jason Plubell, who saw time a season ago in relief of Zattoni, will be taking over the role in the backfield. Plubell appeared in all 11 games a season ago, rushing for 313 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Don’t be surprised to also see Logan Firanski get a few opportunities as well, as he appeared in 10 games to add 138 yards to his career statistics.
Although the rushing game is not as clear entering the season, a slew of returning linemen will be protecting Billotte and creating holes for the running backs. What that means is more opportunities to gain yards, more chances to run out the clock, and a lot of opportunities to put a “W” on the record.
As the Bison prepare for what is going to be without question the most unique season they will play in recent memory, the team also wants to ensure they follow the current guidelines set by both health officials and the school district. As was announced last week, Governor Wolf is allowing fans at high school football this fall. However, the limit of 250 people for an outdoor gathering is in effect. That means when all the Bison players, coaches, opposing players and coaches, cheerleaders and band plus media are added in, how many fans can attend are uncertain. Currently, Struble has stated that fans will not be allowed at the Bison Sports Complex for games, but that is always subject to change as the season progresses.
Janocko and the team hope that at some point fans will be back to see the team play.
Whether it’s a roaring crowd or empty seating, the Bison are going to be ready for a shorter, but still competitive 2020 campaign. With the exception of the final game of the season, all games will be Mountain League contests. Clearfield’s 2020 season will start on the road, however, on September 11 when they travel to face the Penns Valley Rams. The two teams engaged in a high-scoring shootout last season at the BSC, with Clearfield coming away with a 56-49 victory.
Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. The first home game for Clearfield will be the following week when they host Tyrone.
2020 Clearfield Bison Roster
Players listed in BOLD are returning letter winners.
SENIORS: Matt Bailor, Ian Billotte, Matt Bush, Cameron Conklin, Nick Domico, Logan Firanski, Graeson Graves, Zane Inguagiato, Jake Lezzer, Gavin Mills, Jason Plubell, Curvey Purkett
JUNIORS: Jose Alban, Oliver Billotte, Shane Coudriet, Justin Crutchfield, Trenton Green, Karson Kline, Hayden Kovalick, Kaleb Lee, Mark McGonigal, Nathan Natoli, Max Paul-Cook, Josh Steele, Nasheed Thompson, Caleb Wilt
SOPHOMORES: Luke Billotte, Zachary Billotte, Isaac Durandetta, Braedon Firanski, Joseph Knee, Brady LaRock, Mason Lumadue, Connor McCracken, Eric Myers, Mitchell Rowles. Isaac Samsel, Taymon Shomo, Jarrett Zattoni
FRESHMAN: Will Domico
2020 Varsity Schedule
All games set for 7 p.m. kickoff unless noted.
- 11: at Penns Valley
- 18: TYRONE
- 25: BELLEFONTE
- 2: PHILIPSBURG-OSCEOLA
- 9: at Central High
- 16: HUNTINGDON
- 23: at Bald Eagle*
- 30: CLARION HIGH
*Rescheduled from original date of September 4.