BROCKWAY — Big plays and big moments often lead to success. In what has been a season that has been anything but usual for high school football, the Clearfield Bison had their big moment on Saturday afternoon, as they were going after yet another District 9 championship in class 3A. Their opposition was equally as impressive, using big moments and big momentum to make it to the title game, as the St. Marys Flying Dutch were ready to hit the gridiron.
On this day, the Bison were out-gained on the ground, in the air, and time possessing the ball. But, even though the offense did not have the same numbers as the Dutch, the Bison defense made up for it by forcing four turnovers, three winding up with points, and giving Clearfield a 41-30 victory to end the Dutchmen’s undefeated season, and capture yet another D9 championship.
“A lot of kids made a lot of big plays. We threw the ball well, ran the ball pretty well,” Bison head coach Tim Janocko said afterwards. “We’re really happy to get this win.”
The two squads started the afternoon in a true back-and-forth fashion as the Bison started with the ball at their own 35, and thanks to some key passes by Oliver Billotte to both Nate Domico and Jake Lezzer, plus a lucky fumble recovery and run by Lezzer, they worked to the Dutchmen 5-yard line. Billotte then called his own number to power his way into the end zone for the opening score. Graeson Graves added the point after to give the Bison the early 7-0 advantage.
St. Marys answered right back with their own long drive that began on their own 35, and just like Clearfield, the passing game is what got them down the field. But, quarterback Christian Coudriet used his arm, rather than his legs, to get the Dutchmen on the board. A 19-yard strike to Bryce Walker put St. Marys on the board, then Vinicius Nunes added the point after to tie the game up.
Clearfield’s second drive would go for a long run, 12 plays, but Billotte’s fourth down pass to the right sideline would be picked off, which ended the drive but also set the Dutchmen deep in their own territory. But, three plays into the ensuing drive after the turnover, Coudriet’s pass would get batted at the line and Isaac Samsel nabbed the ball for the first turnover created by the Bison defense. This set up Clearfield deep in Dutchmen territory, but they could make it no farther than the six-yard line.
But, Janocko made the call to send Graves in for his first field goal attempt of the season, and without hesitation, he drilled the 23-yard kick to give Clearfield the 10-7 lead with just over nine minutes remaining in the half.
The Bison defense forced a quick three-and-out on the following possession, and immediately after that decided to try and give a bit of a cushion on the scoreboard. Thanks to a few strong runs by Mark McGonigal, and a couple sharp receptions by Karson Kline and Lezzer, it was Billotte that found the end zone a second time on the ground from 14 yards out. The extra point made it a two-possession game, but it did not remain that way for a long time.
St. Mary’s found itself deep in its own territory after a long kickoff, and faced with 3rd and 6 at their own 16. Coudriet looked to his left, and let the ball loose looking for Michael Reiter. Instead, Nate Natoli jumped the route, and even after nearly falling down, managed to get his footing and take the interception 13 yards to the end zone for an enormous pick-six. Graves added the extra point, and suddenly it was 24-7.
The Dutchmen needed to answer back, and did so with a methodical, pass-heavy, drive that went 17 plays, over four minutes, and yet never made it to the end zone. After going 79 yards, St. Marys was forced to settle for a field goal by Nunes to make the score 24-10. But with 20 seconds left in the half, Clearfield was hoping to get something before the break since they were not getting the second-half kickoff.
After a strong kick-off return by McGonigal, the offense came on the field and with one snap, Billotte decided to let it fly. Somehow, Logan Firanski found his way behind the defense, and the pass fell right into his hands for the 55-yard bomb to put another touchdown on the board. Thirteen seconds is all it took to go from a two-score gap to a three-score gap, and Clearfield’s momentum was riding high heading into the break with a 31-10 cushion.
“We thought if we got over the 40 (yard line) that we would take a crack if we got a decent return. McGonigal got a decent return, and I’m not sure if they missed a coverage, but Logan has a lot of speed,” Janocko said. “Oliver put it on him.”
Neither team would make anything happen in the third quarter, minus the Dutchmen committing their third turnover of the game on the opening drive when Coudriet was picked off by Kline at the Bison goal line. The next score for either team came early in the fourth quarter when Graves again booted a field goal, this one from 28 yards out, to put the Bison up 34-10.
After another three-and-out, the Dutchmen finally were able to sustain a drive to end the 27-3 run by Clearfield thanks to another Coudriet touchdown pass, this one to Logan Mosier. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the gap at three possessions, 34-16.
Clearfield still could not put a drive together as the game went on through the second half, and Janocko admitted they did lay down a bit in the final 24 minutes after having such a large gap entering halftime. But, the defense was still playing hard, and in an instant the momentum that seemed to fall the way of St. Mary’s came to an immediate halt.
On their next possession following the touchdown, Coudriet again looked over the left side of the line, and found another young man with the last name Coudriet. This time it was Shane Coudriet, but the problem was he is a defensive lineman for the Bison. Not only did Shane pick the ball off, the big man out-ran the Dutchmen to score the second pick-six of the game, the fourth turnover of the day, and helped put Clearfield up by four possessions and just four minutes remaining in the game.
Still, the Dutchmen would not go away, as they would come back and get a seven-yard score thanks to another touchdown grab by Walker. The extra point made it 41-23, and Janocko knew at this point with no timeouts, if the Bison recovered a kickoff, all they had to do was kneel on the ball.
But, St. Marys pulled an old trick that Janocko has used in year’s past, hammering the kickoff right off the up-man and regaining the possession at mid-field.
What happened afterwards was a quick score thanks to another touchdown pass, this one landing in the hands of Reiter from 23 yards away. The extra point made it a two-possession game, but on the ensuing onside attempt, Nick Domico wrapped the ball up at mid-field, and all it took was a pair of kneel-downs to secure another championship, and a continued season for Clearfield.
The defense made the difference in the game with all the turnovers and pressure, and Janocko was quick to give a lot of appreciation to his assistants.
“I think it’s a credit to defensive line coach, Myles Caragein, and his defensive coordinator, Nate Glunt, for all the different schemes they utilized,” Janocko said. “Coudriet’s a great quarterback.”
Clearfield’s 4-1 record may not seem like much, but the victory in a season where so many things have been crazy, being able to accomplish a championship is a major achievement.
“It has been crazy…we’ve battled through so much. Those two weeks of quarantine, and two games we didn’t play, the heartbreaker at Central; we’ve been through a lot,” he said. “But these kids are resilient, and they played hard today and played well.”
All game photos can be found on the Bison football website.
Clearfield enters the first round of the PIAA playoffs in Class 3A, and according to the District 9 and PIAA sites, the Bison will be playing another squad with Bison in their name. That is, the Bedford Bisons, who will be entering the contest at 7-0 following their victory over Greater Johnstown on Friday night. Tentatively, the game is slated for this Friday, Oct. 30, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. at the Bison Sports Complex.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Clearfield 7 24 0 10 – 41
St. Mary’s 7 3 0 20 – 30
BISON: 5-yard run by O. Billotte (Graves kick), 9:15
DUTCHMEN: 19-yard pass from C. Coudriet to Walker (Nunes kick), 5:50
BISON: 23-yard field goal by Graves, 9:17
BISON: 14-yard run by O. Billotte (Graves kick), 5:28
BISON: 13-yard interception return by Natoli (Graves kick), 4:37
DUTCHMEN: 23-yard field goal by Nunes, 0:20
BISON: 55-yard pass from O. Billotte to Firanski (Graves kick), 0:07
BISON: 28-yard field goal by Graves, 11:02
DUTCHMEN: 9-yard pass from C. Coudriet to Mosier (Pass failed), 4:47
BISON: 26-yard interception return by S. Coudriet (Graves kick), 3:49
DUTCHMEN: 7-yard pass from C. Coudriet to Walker (Nunes kick), 1:17
DUTCHMEN: 23-yard pass from C. Coudriet to Reiter (Nunes kick), 0:53
First Downs: 12/22
Rush Yards: 81/98
Pass Yards: 213/321
Total Yards: 294/419
Time of Possession: 21:56/26:04
Clearfield: Plubell-9 carries, 11 yards; O. Billotte-8 carries, 50 yards, 2 TD; McGonigal-7 carries, 15 yards; Team-3 carries, (-6) yards; Alban-2 carries, 1 yard; I. Billotte-1 carry, 3 yards; Lezzer-No carries, 7 yards.
St. Mary’s: J. Kline-19 carries, 110 yards; C. Coudriet-3 carries, (-8) yards; Davis-1 carry, (-3) yards; Team-1 carry, (-1) yards.
Clearfield: O. Billotte-11 for 19, 213 yards, TD, INT
St. Mary’s: C. Coudriet-35 for 58, 321 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT.
Clearfield: Lezzer-4 catches, 41 yards; Domico-3 catches, 64 yards; Kline-2 catches, 48 yards; Firanski-1 catch, 55 yards, TD; I. Billotte-1 catch 5 yards.
St. Mary’s: Walker-11 catches, 93 yards, 2 TD; Mosier-8 catches, 60 yards, TD; Reiter-7 catches, 99 yards, TD; Fitzgerald-5 catches, 36 yards; J. Kline-3 catches, 35 yards; Davis-1 catch, (-2) yards.