When high schools are playing football the same weekend as students enjoy their Thanksgiving vacation, it means that the state playoffs are in full swing.
But while many folks will be spending a lot of their time hitting the malls and department stores hoping to get the best bargain on the hot Christmas items, the Clearfield Bison football team will be loading up on equipment and making the trip to Kemp Memorial Stadium in Shamokin, PA. Thanks to a victory over the Johnstown Trojans last Friday night in DuBois, Clearfield made the first round of the PIAA state playoffs.
The Bisons are entering the state playoffs 12-0 for the first time since 1994 and are looking to go 13-0 for only the second time in school history. They have a strong chance as for the last two weeks, Clearfield has shown that they are more than capable of handling the top teams in the state.
Two weeks ago in the Class AAA championship for District 9, the Bisons faced Punxsutawney in a battle of unbeatens for a championship. Thanks in part to a big game by Derek Morgan, Clearfield brought home the title and avenged a loss from the previous year.
Last week, it was a tougher task as they had to face a Johnstown team that won the District 6 title by overpowering Bellefonte. However, the defense forced three turnovers, two of which led to scores. That was enough to send Clearfield to a 28-12 victory and onto one more week of football.
The competition does not get any easier as next on the docket is the District 4 champion Shikellamy Braves.
What Clearfield needs to do in this game is to simply stop the run. The Braves are all about keeping the ball on the ground, running at the opposing defense, and running time off the clock. Through the regular season, Shikellamy gained over 2500 yards rushing the ball, including 25 touchdowns (stats for Shikellamy are only available for the 10-game regular season).
The top rushers on the team are senior quarterback Garrett Pope and senior running back Dominick Wolfe. Pope himself had 900 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns. Wolfe wasn’t far behind as he had 831 yards in 10 games and nine more touchdowns.
This is possibly the best two-back team that Clearfield has faced all year long, and that could create trouble if they get rolling. Pope averages nearly eight yards a carry, and Wolfe averages just over six. The Bison defense needs to be on their toes and tackle very well just to keep the Braves in check, and also force them to throw the ball.
If they do, that could help as Pope has only completed 47 percent of his passes in the regular season, 12 for touchdowns and only six interceptions.
At the same time, Clearfield needs to continue what has gotten them this far in the year. The Bisons have one of the most balanced offenses in the state, averaging 132 yards passing with another 204 yards on the ground.
The star player this year has been Morgan. This has been a breakout year for the senior running back. On the ground, Morgan has 1,184 yards on 207 carries and 17 touchdowns. His quickness and ability to make tacklers miss has been one of the biggest keys for Clearfield all year. In the District 9 title game against Punxsutanwey, Morgan accounted for all four Bison touchdowns, including one on a 34-yard interception return.
Morgan needs to continue that type of season on Friday for Clearfield to continue it’s undefeated streak. However, the Bisons can’t remain one-dimensional.
That is unlikely as junior quarterback Curtis Frye has been simply superb as the leader of the Bison offense.
Frye has completed 61 percent of his passes this year for nearly 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has only been intercepted four times, meaning just one time every three games. On the ground, Frye has shown his legs are just as deadly as his arm as he has 302 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.
But, the real wild card in this game could be one of the unsung heroes on the season for Clearfield. Last week, Brandon Hogue had one of the best nights of the year. He only had two receptions during the game, but both his receptions were for touchdowns.
Defensively, the unsung hero for Clearfield the last week was Shane Harper. With a mobile and elusive quarterback like Gervon Simon for Johnstown, Harper was able to get two sacks, both of which stopped Johnstown from scoring, and ended Johnstown’s opportunity to continue in the year.
This is being billed as the biggest game thus far for Clearfield, but as head coach Tim Janocko said the last few weeks, to him each game is big when it gets this deep into the season.
Kickoff for Friday’s game is set for 7 p.m. from Shamokin, PA. For directions to Kemp Memorial Stadium, visit www.clearfieldfootball.org and click on the “directions” link.