SPRING MILLS — After what seemed like an eternity, which for most came to be a predominantly accurate statement, the Clearfield Bison football season officially has begun. What originally was a 10-game slate suddenly shrank down to eight, and even entering the year, the wonder was whether those games would actually happen. But, on the 19th anniversary of the nation’s most frightening attack on American soil, the Bison took to the field, although on the road, as they made the ride out to Penns Valley to face the Rams.
With protocols in place to limit capacity, no Bison faithful made the trip. However, the new squad for head coach Tim Janocko made those listening on the radio and watching the live stream on social media cheer with Bison pride. At the end of 48 minutes, Clearfield etched its first win on the unprecedented 2020 season with a shutout over Penns Valley, 27-0.
“It was good. There are some things we definitely need to get better at, but I was happy with how hard the kids played,” Janocko said through his mask. “We come down here, we have no fans…just us.
“It’s a good win for our kids, we played physical, hard, and there’s some things we have to work on.”
Clearfield’s night started off a bit sluggish but the defense managed to force a punt on the Rams’ opening drive of the game, giving the Bison a short field for their opening possession. In a matter of four minutes, second-year quarterback Oliver Billotte relied on his arm, along with his legs plus the ground attack of Jason Plubell and Mark McGonigal to push deep into the opposing territory. Billotte capped off the drive with a plunge just outside the goal line to put the first points of the season on the board. New kicker Graeson Graves booted the extra point to give Clearfield the 7-0 lead nearly halfway into the first quarter, which ultimately was the lone score of the first 12 minutes.
Penns Valley did put together a long drive to try and answer the score, but Clearfield held on defensively and forced a punt on 4th and 9 to take back possession.
Clearfield’s second scoring drive came on a long, 14-play drive that started at their own 20. Thanks to some great blocking from the offensive line, Billotte saw Plubell and McGonigal gain yardage with their legs, while he managed to get the ball through the air to Karson Kline, Jake Lezzer and Nate Natoli to put them in prime position for another score. Billotte managed that on his own with a seven-yard rumble to add to the lead. The point after made it 14-0 with just over five minutes remaining.
The ensuing kickoff would be a game changer, but in a fashion that saw the momentum shift not just once, but twice, in one instance.
On the return, Alex Hammer took the ball and found an opening right down the sideline in front of the Clearfield bench. He rumbled right up the field for 89 yards in what seemed like an immediate change for the home team. But, in hot pursuit was Kline, who just prior to the goal line caught up to Hammer, and somehow knocked the ball out of his hands. The ball would go out of the end zone, and what seemed like a touchdown suddenly appeared to be a turnover. With the officials huddling in the center of the field, suddenly they motioned that the ball would be a touchback, and Clearfield got the ball on an unexpected turnover at their own 20.
“You never give up, and to cause that fumble to get the ball back, just a huge play,” Janocko said of the turnover.
Clearfield would not turn the change of fortune into points, but their final drive of the first half saw Kline be the highlight, as he would pull in an 11-yard reception from Billotte for the first passing and receiving score of the season. Graves’ right foot made the score 21-0 heading into halftime.
Billotte’s night was astounding, leading the team in rushing (56), while adding another 207 yards passing with four total touchdowns.
Kline was on the receiving end of both touchdowns, the second coming in the final stanza as neither team would add points in the third quarter. Kline would haul in a very tough catch at the corner of the end zone from seven yards out to put Clearfield up by four scores. Graves saw his extra point blocked to set what ultimately was the final score of the contest.
“Kline had an excellent game tonight, among other kids,” Janocko said afterwards. “Nate Natoli had some big catches, Jake (Lezzer) had some big catches, and our offensive line got better as the game went on. Both backs ran hard, so it was a total team effort.”
To consider the game a textbook one for the Bison was not the case, as the long summer and lack of preparation due to restrictions was evident, as Clearfield committed seven penalties, many coming before the snap. Janocko always understands the first game itself is not always going to be by the book, but in his eyes with everything his team had to face this year leading up to the opening game, to get better from the opening kickoff to the final whistle was an accomplishment.
“There was rust. We didn’t have the two-a-days, nor passing league all summer. I thought we got the rust dust5ed off, and threw the ball effectively to sustain some long drives. We just have to go week by week to get better,” he said.
But, in the end, he knew that for the community, having football back in any fashion, whether with or without fans in the stands, was needed to have some semblance of normalcy, stating, “We love football, and we want to get back to things as they were, if we can.”
Game photos can be found here at the Clearfield football website.
Clearfield (1-0) starts a three-week stretch of home games beginning next Friday as they host Tyrone. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Currently, there will be limited fans in attendance, as was noted in a prior release from the Clearfield Area School District.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 7 14 0 6 – 27
Penns Valley 0 0 0 0 – 0
BISON: 1-yard run by Billotte (Graves kick), 6:40
BISON: 7-yard run by Billotte (Graves kick), 5:07
BISON: 11-yard pass from Billotte to Kline (Graves kick), 0:07
BISON: 9-yard pass from Billotte to Kline (Graves kick blocked), 5:20
First Downs: 20/7
Rush Yards: 151/59
Pass Yards: 207/42
Total Yards: 358/101
Clearfield: Billotte-12 carries, 56 yards, 2 TD; McGonigal-11 carries, 53 yards; Plubell-10 carries, 22 yards; Alban-4 carries, 19 yards; Lezzer-1 carry, 2 yards; Firanski-1 carry, 0 yards.
Penns Valley: Brinker-12 carries, 43 yards; Baney-7 carries, 25 yards; Ilgen-3 carries, 3 yards; Team-1 carry, (-12) yards.
Clearfield: Billotte-17 for 30, 207 yards, 2 TD.
Penns Valley: Brinker-8 for 17, 42 yards.
Clearfield: Lezzer-8 catches, 128 yards; Kline-5 catches, 60 yards, 2 TD; Natoli-3 catches, 38 yards; Plubell-1 catch, (-4) yards.
Penns Valley: Lieb-3 catches, 21 yards; S. Ripka-3 catches, (-5) yards; G. Ripka-1 catch, 15 yards; Hammer-1 catch, 11 yards.