ROARING SPRING — A game that for one squad was a mid-season showdown and for the other was an early-season juggernaut was on the docket in Roaring Spring on Friday night. The Clearfield Bison, fresh off a return to action a week ago, rode the buses to the Martinsburg area to put their undefeated record on the line against the also-undefeated Central Dragons. Often like they have done the last two years for a major road contest, the Bison came from the locker room wearing their all-white attire, ready for battle.
The match-up that ensued saw miscues, missed opportunities, and untimely turnovers, all of which the Dragons took advantage of. In the end, a late score, and a final giveaway, put the first blemish on the Bison campaign, in a gut-wrenching 25-21 final.
“They made one more play than us, that’s what it came down to,” Bison head coach Tim Janocko said afterwards. “This was a great game between two great teams. Both teams played their hearts out, and we just came up on the wrong end.”
Clearfield’s woes began not just on the first drive, but on the first play. An encroachment turned a 1st and 10 into a 1st and 5, and the Dragons pounced immediately. Quarterback Jeff Hoenstine loaded up and launched his first pass up the right side of the field, and it landed squarely in the grip of Hunter Smith for the quick 52-yard strike and immediate lead for the home squad. An extra point later, and with just 18 seconds off the clock, the Bison already trailed 7-0.
Clearfield’s woes continued as they were forced to punt on their opening drive, but then on their second drive, Oliver Billotte lost grip on the ball during a planned read-option run, and it was the Dragon defensive line landing on the fumble for the first turnover of the game.
For Clearfield, the ensuing drive boosted confidence as they held the Dragons to three-and-out, and kept the deficit to only one possession entering the second quarter. But, the Bison still couldn’t gain any ground, and had to punt from inside Dragon territory, but Graeson Graves pinned Central inside their own 10, giving the defense a chance to make a stand and set up a short field.
The Dragons had other plans, as they would roar down the field into the red zone, facing a 3rd and 6 at the Bison 19.
It was there that the Dragon coaches decided to divulge into the back part of the playbook, as the ensuing snap went to Hoenstine, who then passed the ball to Eli Lingenfelter. But, the pass went backwards, and Lingenfelter changed his grip and heaved toward the end zone, finding Devon Boyles for the lateral-to-touchdown pass connection. The extra point, unfortunately for Centra fortunately for Clearfield, hooked left, leaving the gap 13-0 with just under seven minutes before halftime.
At that point, things began to click for the Bison on offense, as Billotte took the team on his shoulders, and thanks in major part to his legs, the Bison got on the board as the junior quarterback rumbled for 34 yards for his first touchdown on the night. Graves added the extra point, and the lead suddenly was cut in half.
With the energy on the sideline at a high level, the defense went on the field and forced the Dragons to punt, giving Clearfield the ball with just over two minutes left before halftime. It seemed as though Clearfield’s effort would be stopped when Billotte was sacked on first down. But, the leader of the offense bounced back with three consecutive completions, the last being a 10-yard strike in the corner of the end zone to his favorite target, Jake Lezzer, who pulled the ball away from the defender to ensure the score counted. Graves hammered the extra point, and entering halftime, Clearfield held the slim 14-13 advantage, and would get the ball to start the second half.
In that third quarter, the Bison offense made the opposition work hard, and work often.
Clearfield’s opening possession of the second half took up half the quarter; an 11-play drive that was capped when Luke McGonigal bulldozed into the end zone for the touchdown. The extra point gave Clearfield the 21-13 lead.
For Central, it only took a minute to answer back. Hoenstine took the 2nd-and-3 snap from his own 41, and took to the air, connecting with Demetrius Harbaugh for the 59-yard touchdown. Unfortunately for the hosts, the two-point try failed, leaving Clearfield hanging on to a two-point lead.
When Clearfield returned to the field on offense, the plan was the same as the prior drive: grind away, use the clock, and wear out the defense. For Central, the mere 54 seconds it took for them to cut the lead would be the only time they held the ball the entire quarter. Sadly, unlike the scoring drive, Clearfield was stopped short of points, and had to turn the ball over on downs.
“That first quarter was calamity for us,” Janocko said. “We came back, and we held the lead for most of the second and third quarter.”
Janocko’s confidence in his team never waivered, but Billotte’s arm made it’s first miscue after the defense forced a punt. On the first play of the drive late in the fourth quarter, he once again looked to Lezzer. But, Hoenstine showed he wasn’t just a leader on offense, but also in the secondary, as he stepped in front of the pass, forcing the interception and the second turnover of the night for the Bison.
With six minutes remaining in the game, the Dragons had time and timeouts, but they decided to not use them. Instead, they kept taking time off the clock, hoping to get in the end zone or at least get a field goal opportunity, leaving little time on the clock for the Bison to answer. They would do so, grinding the clock away, but soon faced a third and three inside the Bison 41.
At that point, the playbook got opened up to the back page for something many of the players on the field remember seeing on television.
Hoenstine found his receiver, Ethan Eicher, on the right side for a short gain. But suddenly, as quickly as he caught the ball, he touched down and flipped the ball backwards to Parker Gregg, and at that point the speedy running back found a hole on the right side. In a play made famous on “Varsity Blues” between Tweeder and Billy Bob, and later the first of two consecutive trick plays to push Boise State over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, the hook-and-ladder put the Dragons ahead. The failed two-point try left a four-point gap, and Clearfield had just over a minute remaining to somehow make it to the end zone.
The pooch kickoff was fielded at the Bison 34, and out came Billotte ready to go once again. He would gain a first down right away, pushing the ball to midfield. The second play from scrimmage, he looked right, aiming for Karson Kline.
Instead, Hunter Smith stepped in front of the pass, and the third turnover on the night sealed the fate for Clearfield, ending their undefeated season in agonizing fashion.
For Janocko, this season has been one of learning, and not just on the field. He spoke afterwards of how his team came back to take the lead, but still played with passion.
“(This season) is nothing like I’ve ever experienced, nor anybody else. I think we are going to be ok,” he said. “Playoffs are coming quick, and I was impressed with how well we played. They (Central) just made one more play than us tonight.”
All game photos can be viewed on the Bison football website.
Clearfield (2-1) returns home next Friday against the Huntingdon Bearcats, with kickoff slated for 7 p.m. Information on attendance, in accordance with the new guidelines for large gatherings, will come during the ensuing week.
- Clearfield’s three turnovers on the night are the first turnovers for the team this season.
- For the third consecutive game, the Bison had no player over 100 yards rushing.
- The Bison’s nine penalties, five in the first quarter, were the most of any game this season.
- Since introducing the all-white uniforms in 2018, Clearfield is 1-2 when wearing them for a road game. Their lone win came in 2018 against Bald Eagle Area. The other loss came last year against Bellefonte during the regular season (the two played each other in the playoffs, where Clearfield wore their traditional white-and-black road combo).
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 0 14 7 0 – 21
Central 7 6 6 6 – 25
DRAGONS: 52-yard pass from Hoenstine to Smith (Keith kick), 11:42
DRAGONS: 19-yard pass from Lingenfelter to Boyles (Keith kick Wide Left), 6:54
BISON: 34-yard run by Billotte (Graves kick), 5:57
BISON: 10-yard pass from Billotte to Lezzer (Graves kick), 0:28
BISON: 2-yard run by McGonigal (Graves kick), 6:02
DRAGONS: 59-yard pass from Hoenstine to Harbaugh (Conversion pass failed), 5:08
DRAGONS: 41-yard pass from Hoenstine to Gregg (Conversion pass failed), 1:04
First Downs: 14/9
Rush Yards: 115/82
Pass Yards: 207/171
Total Yards: 317/203
Time of Possession: 26:57/21:03
Clearfield: Billotte-14 carries, 48 yards, TD; McGonigal-10 carries, 38 yards, TD; Plubell-5 carries, 17 yards; Firanski-2 carries, 12 yards.
Central: Gregg-12 carries, 57 yards; Hoenstine-8 carries, 9 yards; Team-1 carry, (-1) yards.
Clearfield: Billotte-16 for 29, 197 yards, TD, 2 INT.
Central: Hoenstine-13 for 22, 205 yards, 2 TD; Lingenfelter-1 for 1, 9 yards, TD.
Clearfield: Lezzer-10 catches, 176 yards, TD; Kline-3 catches, 21 yards; Domico-2 catches, 11 yards; Plubell-1 catch, 4 yards.
Central: Smith-3 catches, 74 yards, TD; Eicher-3 catches, 15 yards; Harbaugh-2 catches, 86 yards, TD; Gregg-2 catches, 44 yards, TD; Boyles-2 catches, 23 yards, TD; Lingenfelter-1 catch, 23 yards; Klotz-1 catch, 4 yards.