ROARING SPRING — The first game of the year in any sport is a test to see how the team meshes, and if changes are needed to make things better. This is especially evident in high school football as players move on, graduate, or go to new teams. The Clearfield Bisons lost many teammates from their 13-1 season last year, but head coach Tim Janocko was focused to only worry about his current squad, and not what happened one year ago.
The first test for his 2011 team would be on the road as Clearfield made the trip to Roaring Spring to take on the Dragons of Central High School. At kickoff, not only were the grandstands packed, but the entire fence was surrounded by fans wanting to see if the Dragons would hand Clearfield the first loss of the year, or if the Bisons would put the fire out of the Dragons.
Despite a rough start to the game, and some mistakes on both sides of the ball, Clearfield began to find it’s stride. Riding the running ability of senior Beau Swales, and thanks to two interceptions by junior Dylan Graham, the Bisons were able to hold on for the 27-20 victory.
Janocko was pleased with his team, especially considering he was playing many underclassmen.
“Central is a very good football team. To come in here with a young team and put on that kind of performance, you have to be pleased,” Janocko said. “We have lots of sophomores playing, but it was overall a very satisfying win.”
The youth and inexperience showed early in the game as Central opened the contest with a 50-yard run by quarterback Matt Ritchey. That long run would soon set up the first score of the game.
“Our defense got knocked down a lot, but we just kept getting up off the canvas,” Janocko said.
That run would be the longest given up by the Bison defense as they held the Dragons to only 108 yards on the ground for the remainder of the game, the most coming from Jarron Knisely who had 59 yards on 18 carries. Clearfield still put on a tough game for the passing attack of Ritchey as he was only held to 69 yards through the air, completing only four passes.
Meanwhile, the Bisons themselves found some success both on the ground and in the air. The biggest workhorse for Clearfield was Swales, who had 24 carries for 181 yards on the night, including one touchdown, plus one reception. Quarterback Curtis Frye also had success on the ground, getting 87 yards on the ground on 16 carries including a touchdown, but provided some great assistance through the air, despite only completing five passes. Those receptions were good for 112 yards and two touchdowns, which proved to be the biggest factor in the victory.
Clearfield deferred the opening coin toss, but when Ritchey managed to gain half the field on the first play, it made for easy pickings on the opening drive. Three plays later, Central went with a little trickery, employing the halfback pass to Austin Cunningham, who then hurled the ball 15 yards into the end zone to Josh Link for the quick score. An extra point later by Moritz Leupka gave Central the 7-0 lead just over two minutes in.
When it was the Bisons’ turn to be on offense, they were shut down on the ground and in the air, being forced to turnover on downs despite a long kickoff return by Swales. Luckily the defense stood it’s ground on Central’s second drive, and forced a punt.
The following drive would get Clearfield on the board as both Frye and Swales used their legs to go 80 yards down the field, combined with some tough blocking by the Bison front line. Frye capped off the drive with a 13-yard plunge into the corner of the end zone around two Dragon defenders. Spencer Herrington punctuated the drive with the extra point, leaving the game tied at seven after one quarter of play.
Unfortunately, at the end of the first quarter came the Bisons’ first mistake of the night as running back Ryan Hertlein mishandled a carry, and the ball fell to the ground with Central falling on it at their own 42. The turnover could have proved costly, but Clearfield made sure that it got redemption.
After the Dragons drove to the Bison 19, fullback Todd Slick had the ball come loose from his grip, with Swales falling on it to provide the second turnover of the game.
Two plays later, it was a case of deja vu as Frye had the ball come out of his grip, and Central was there to capture the fumble. This time, the Dragons made the Bisons pay for the mistake as after six plays, Bradi Moore was able to bulldoze his way into the end zone for a three-yard score. The extra point gave Central a 14-7 lead with 3:30 remaining in the first half.
“There’s no question the fumbles hurt us tonight,” Janocko said
Time was still on the clock for Clearfield to answer back, and they did that with a combination of running and passing. After starting at their own 30, Swales and Frye followed their blocks by the offensive line to reach the Dragon 40. After a three-yard gain on second down, Frye decided to go deep, looking for Christian Lezzer over the middle of the field and in between the secondary. As if the ball was meant to land in just one spot, his pass went right into the arms of Lezzer for a 37-yard touchdown pass. An extra point later, the game was tied 14-14 heading into halftime, but with the momentum in the hands of the Bisons.
“That touchdown was huge. It was a momentum swing for us since we knew we were getting the ball to start the second half, and really was the defining drive for us,” Janocko said.
Knowing the passing game wasn’t working at the time, Janocko went to the fundamentals and put Swales to work on the ensuing drive to open the third quarter. With the exception of one play action pass, all the plays on the drive were runs, and all but one was by Swales. The drive concluded with Swales rumbling for a 31-yard gain right up the middle of the defense, followed by him going into the end zone from three yards out practically untouched.
Herrington’s extra point hit the upright, so with 8:43 left in the third quarter Clearfield had it’s first lead of the night at 20-14.
Hoping to answer back, Central decided to employ the passing game and after pushing into Bison territory, found itself with a 2nd and 21 thanks to back-to-back penalties. As if those mistakes weren’t enough, the halfback pass was called again, and this time wound up in the hands of Bison defensive back Dylan Graham.
With 5:18 left in the quarter, Swales and Frye once again used their legs to not only gain yards, but drain the clock. The drive following the interception did not lead to any points, but it took off over four minutes of game play.
Central took over with 1:08 left in the third, and couldn’t manage but 20 yards on the drive and was forced to punt. Clearfield didn’t fair much better either on the next drive as they too were forced to punt, but running back Jaron Knisely made his biggest play of the night on the punt return as he brought the ball back to the Bison 33, setting up the Dragons with a short field.
One play later, Clearfield again found itself in a deadlock as Moore took the ball 33 yards to the house for the touchdown. But, the extra point was blocked, leaving the score 20-20, and 8:40 left on the clock.
The next drive for the Bisons would be the one where Frye finally got his passing game working. After an incomplete pass on the first play, and a two-yard scramble, Frye connected with Lezzer on the sidelines for a 12-yard gain. Lezzer was shaken up on the play, but would eventually return. Swales couldn’t manage anything on the next two plays, leaving a 3rd and 10 from the Bison 40. Frye then went back to pass, and again let the ball rip right down the middle of the field. Sophomore Trey Jordan found a seam between the safeties and had the ball land right to him, giving the Bisons their second lead of the night.
An extra point later, the game was 27-20 in favor of the Bisons.
The ensuing kickoff would be rather unique as Clearfield decided to squib the kick, but it bounced off one of the up backs on the front line, and Clearfield reacted swiftly, covering the ball and taking over after the miscue by Central.
Clearfield tried to run the clock, and forced Central to use all their time outs, but were stopped on fourth down, giving Central another opportunity to tie the game. However, the Bison defense was ready for what was to come, and dug their feet in deep for the next drive.
After three incomplete passes, Ritchey went for another deep ball down the left sideline, only to see the pass fall into Graham’s hands for the second time in the game. The interception sealed the victory for the Bisons, as they were able to hold the Dragons to minus seven yards on the last drive of the game, as Clearfield was forced to punt due to some miscues on the drive following the interception.
“Graham had some big interceptions tonight, he was huge on both those plays,” Janocko said.
After the intense battle on the field, and with his hair covered in sweat, Janocko was pleased with the effort the entire Bison team put forth in the season opener.
“This was a very satisfying win for our team. To go on the road with a young team, coming into this kind of environment, it’s just a huge step for us,” Janocko said.
Clearfield (1-0) is again on the road next Friday night as they will face Bald Eagle Area.
See photos of the game here: http://www.clearfieldfootball.org/090211game.html
Clearfield 7 7 6 7 27
Central 7 7 0 6 20
SCORE BY QUARTER
DRAGONS: 15-yard pass from Cunningham to Link (Leupka kick), 9:48
BISONS: 13-yard run by Frye (Herrington kick), 2:19
DRAGONS: 3-yard run by Moore (Leupka kick), 3:30
BISONS: 37-yard pass from Frye to Lezzer (Herrington kick), 0:48
BISONS: 3-yard run by Swales (Herrington kick NO GOOD), 8:43
DRAGONS: 33-yard run by Moore (Leupka kick BLOCKED), 8:40
BISONS: 60-yard pass from Frye to Jordan (Herrington kick), 5:59
First Downs: CF-13 CTL-9
Rush Yards: CF-275 CTL-158
Pass Yards: CF-112 CTL-69
Penalties: CF-5 CTL-5
Penalty Yards: CF-26 CTL-51
Total Yards: CF-413 CTL-271
Interceptions: CF-0 CTL-2
Fumbles: CF-2 CTL-2
Fumbles Lost: CF-2 CTL-1
Time of Possession: CF-27:07 CTL-20:53
Clearfield: Swales-24 carries, 182 yards, TD; Frye-16 carries, 87 yards, TD; Hertlein-1 carry, 8 yards; Team-2 carries, (-2) yards
Central: Knisely-18 carries, 59 yards; Moore-6 carries, 49 yards, 2 TD; Ritchey-8 carries, 37 yards; Conrath-1 carry, 1 yard
Clearfield: Frye-5 completions, 17 attempts, 112 yards, 2 TD
Central: Ritchey-4 completions, 12 attempts, 44 yards, 2 INT; Cunningham-1 completion, 2 attempts, 15 yards, TD
Clearfield: Lezzer-2 catches, 49 yards, TD; Jordan-1 catch, 60 yards, TD; Swales-1 catch, 19 yards; Myers-1 catch, 3 yards
Central: Link-1 catch, 15 yards, TD; Cunningham-1 catch, 20 yards; Smith-1 catch, 20 yards; Knisely-1 catch, 5 yards